Social care has a rich history, particularly in the UK. It derived from laws to protect the poor which were passed in the 17th century, but today social care has grown to take on many different meanings.
The Australian Association of Social Workers comes up with a very good summary of what social care means: “Structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing.”
But what forms do these take? Let’s break it down. Perhaps the oldest forms of social care are community organisations and social group workers. These are bodies which focus on working with and improving the circumstances of a whole community, or a specific group within a community. This is often done through outreach work, education programs and the distribution of beneficial materials such as food, medicine or educational equipment. Children, minority groups, or groups which are under threat are often the focus of these programmes.
A branch of group work that is growing in use is recreational therapy, which uses a number of means such as drama, sports and other group activities to help individuals cope with social life situations. Recreation’s known healthy benefits also makes it a target area for social workers.
According to the Temple University’s College of Public Health, based in the US: “Therapeutic Recreation is an occupation that takes play and recreation very seriously. It is an established health related profession committed to promoting the connection between health and recreation involvement.”
Then there is individually focused therapy, such as psychotherapy and behavioral therapy. This practice also borrows a lot from social psychology, which looks at the way individuals or groups are influenced by other individuals or groups. When a negative connotation is present, social care professionals can seek to address this and find out the root cause. As put by Manchester University Psychology (BSc) Tutor, Saul Mcleod: “Social psychology is about understanding individual behavior in a social context.”
The group and the individual overlap in many ways. For example, a social care worker might be helping a number of elderly people perform their daily routines individually, but in doing so is helping the demographic of elderly people as a whole.
As the number of therapeutic methods increases, the way social care is delivered will inevitably grow with them. But simply put, job roles in social care are centred around organisations that seek to help the vulnerable in society, be they challenged by financial, physical health, mental health or social exclusion issues.