The problems of social work in small cities—some reflections from Binzhou, Shandong Province

中文 English

It is generally known that social work, as a field based on helping others, originated in Western countries. Within China the birthplace of social work is in the Pearl River Delta. Following the development principle of “starting off with one region, and gradually expanding”, the modern social work system was first built up in this region. At present social organizations have spread all over China, with the increasing support of the government for the field’s development and the issuing of policies to strengthen social forces. In particular, due to the lower standards for the registration of social organizations, many NGOs have emerged in third and four-tier cities. But are all the service organizations whose registration with the Civil Affair Bureau includes the term “social work” real social work organizations? Reality shows that operating a real social organization is not as simple as hanging up a plaque with its registered name. During the development of social work in medium and small cities, a series of issues have come to light.

Registering just to jump on the bandwagon

Binzhou, where the author currently lives, is a third tier city with a population of less than 4 million. Within a period of over a year going from 2015 to 2016, at least twenty NGOs registered with the Civil Affairs Bureau in Binzhou, six or seven of them using the term “social work”. This number does not include those in nearby counties. It clearly has to be said that the policies aimed at encouraging the development of social organizations have worked. However, what is the purpose of them registering as social organizations? Do they really understand the aim and nature of social work? It is reported that around 80% of the individuals who register social organizations do not know what social work is before registering. There are a couple of major reasons behind them registering.

The first reason is the government’s encouragement. As a legal representative of a social organization told the author, “in recent years, many policies have been implemented to encourage the development of social organizations. Meanwhile the standards for registration are getting lower. Now it costs only 30,000 RMB to register a social organization. Following the policies is always the best way.” This informant also added that he knows someone in a government agency who told him that the development of social work is the current trend, and encouraging him to establish a social organization himself.

The second reason is the influence of the people around them. Some people registered NGOs just because they saw that many people in the same field were registering and they did not want to fall behind. The author personally knows about one person who individually owns four NGOs.

Registering to start an NGO with no background in social work

According to the investigation, more than 90% of the creators of social organization in Binzhou had not previously studied social work systematically. Some of them used to provide services for households, while some used to be in real estate. Even some labor contractors followed this trend and registered as NGOs. These people do not understand what social work is at all and are just blindly following the trend.

One of the creators of a social organization told the author, “I do not know anything about social work! I saw that many people were doing this so I just followed suit. Besides, I used to work in the housework services sector, providing services to people. Doesn’t social work also serve the people? Moreover, being a social organization might be in the interest of my housework services company, because it seems like we could benefit from tax reductions due to our social work.” As can be seen from the conversation, his aim is to make his company more profitable. This might be the real purpose of most businessmen who establish social organizations. We all know that NGOs are non-profit organizations. If NGOs are established in a profit-oriented way, then the nature of NGOs has been changed and they will not exist in the charity sector for long.

When NGOs are established in communities, this limits their freedom

In Binzhou, the offices of most NGOs are located within communities1, and this results in limitations on the use of time and space because of the need to adjust to the community’s staff. Some social workers have revealed that their work hours have to be consistent with those of the community workers. If they get to work early no one will open the door for them, and if they leave late they will remain locked inside their office. Since their working hours are far from enough to complete their daily tasks, they are forced to work overtime from home. In addition, NGO staff also need to take the attitude of the community workers into account when they organize activities, and especially activities for teenagers and children, which can only be conducted on weekends because they tend to be noisy. The author used to work as an intern in a social work service center in Guangzhou, which was operated as an integrated family service center. We cannot say this has no disadvantages at all, but at least the workers have their own workspace and they are in control of their work both temporally and spatially. It also leads to more effectiveness for task completion and the organization of activities.

We cannot expect the NGOs in the medium and small-sized cities to develop at the same level of those in big cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, since they are still startups. Working within the communities is a phase that has to be gone through. In the long run however, a free working space for social workers will be an inevitable requirement for the development of social organizations.

Without a well-established social workers’ organization, the supply of “new blood” is limited

In most big cities, there is usually a social worker’s organization, for example the Social Work Association (社会工作协会). Such civic organizations play an important role in promoting social service development. In small cities, however, the absence of such organizations retards the growth of social workers. In May 2016, a social organization innovation center was established in Binzhou city, a landmark event for the local social organizations. 50 organizations have become members since its inception. At present, the function of the organization is still confined to convening members to make project-bidding announcements. If the center can expand its activities to include trainings and social work workshops to keep local social workers updated on recent developments in their field, thus infusing the sector with “new blood”, it will help to nurture the healthy growth of local social workers. Currently, the organizational structure of the center is underdeveloped. In addition, a bureaucratic mindset is still present in its operations as the center is headed by officials from the neighborhood bureaucratic offices (街道办事处).

Governments’ preference for the fast achievement of performance indicators puts social service organizations in a compromising position

Most social service organizations nowadays operate on the basis of government-procured projects. Such a model creates opportunity and infuses vitality into the development of social services. The project-based operations model has become well developed in metropolises like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. It is however still in its infancy stage in small to medium cities, where governments simply view social workers as intermediaries that help them fix problems expeditiously and achieve government performance indicators. Operating with such a mentality, government entities focus chiefly on tangible and quantitative items in their project-tender decisions. As we all know, social workers are here to solve social problems. Society is composed of people, and change in people does not occur overnight. A single training or participatory game cannot bring about change; instead it requires a combination of social policy, advocacy and participation on the macro-level, adjustment of mindsets at the micro-level and group work at the level in between.

The government officials however do not share such a realization; they want to see results at the material level, or in other words tangible stuff that can be quantified in numbers. I had a conversation with someone who is in charge of a social service organization in Binzhou, and they told me what follows: “in government procured projects, the actual work conducted often differs dramatically from what is spelled out in the tender contract, because in the end governments are only interested in quantitative outcomes. As a result, we have to wrap up the community and group activities as fast as we can, which means we are done with a project by just taking a few photos. There is no need to do any case management work as governments think that little can be achieved with intervening on the mindsets within a short window of time. Sometimes it gets to the point that we don’t even need to conduct community and group activities. Governments will arrange participants for trainings, and all we need to do is contact the trainer. The role of a social worker has been reduced to the one of a coordinator who links resources. As such, our professional training and abilities are under-utilized.”

From his comments, we can clearly see the dilemma faced by social workers in the small and medium cities: on the one hand they desperately need project funds from the government, but on the other they have to oblige the governments’ requirements to achieve quantitative goals for the projects, such as the number of trainings completed. While social workers can have many roles, in coordinating the trainings their role is being minimized to that of resource coordinators. The mission and ideal of a social service organization can only be achieved by conducting activities that can utilize social workers’ professionalism and capabilities. Otherwise, the slogan one finds in many organizations’ self-introduction, “helping people to help themselves”, is meaningless. A government official once asked a social worker: “what can you social workers do on your own?” This is a question that warrants careful consideration for each social worker in this profession.

The above are some reflections that this author has had since embarking on a career in social service. Overall, the development of social service organizations is still in its infancy: there is still ample room for improvements in areas such as institutional operation and project implementation. We still need to adopt good practices gleaned from the big cities for social workers’ professional development, and increase the supply of “new blood”. Against the backdrop of the rapid development of social services in China, we are convinced that the social service organizations in small to medium cities will experience a healthy growth as well.

1In this context the word Community refers to the 社区, a loose form of neighbourhood units found in China

 

The author of this article, Ma Qingping, has a postgraduate degree in social work from Fuzhou University. She is currently a social worker in the Zhongzhi Social Work Service Center. 

小城市社会工作发展问题的思考

——以山东省滨州市为例

马青萍[1]

众所周知,社会工作作为一门学科,作为一种助人专业,最早起源于西方国家。在中国,珠江三角洲地区是社会工作的先行之地,以“区域先行、逐步推广”为发展方向,率先建立起现代社会工作制度。随着政府大力发展社会工作专业,不断壮大社会组织力量等相关政策的出台,社会工作服务机构已在中国的大江南北“遍地开花”。尤其是近几年社会组织注册门槛的降低使得一些三四线小城市也出现了很多社会工作服务中心的“身影”。然而仅仅在民政局注册上带有“社会工作”这四个字的服务机构就真的是社会工作机构了吗?事实证明真正的社会工作机构并不是你注册的牌子上挂上这四个字那么简单。中小城市在社会工作发展的道路上无疑暴露出一系列的问题。

第一,跟风注册现象严重

笔者所在的滨州市是一个人口不到400万的三线小城市,借着社会工作发展的东风,从2015年到2016年这一年多的时间里,整个滨州市滨城区在民政局注册备案的社会组织不少于二十家,其中挂上社会工作这四个大字的社会组织就有六七家,这还没有算上其他的一些小县城。当然,我们不得不说政府鼓励社会组织发展的政策已经奏效了,但是这些社会组织的法人注册社会工作机构的目的是什么?他们真正的了解社会工作的宗旨和性质吗?据了解80%左右的社会组织注册者在注册社工机构以前并不了解什么是社工,他们注册的原因主要由以下几个:

首先,政府政策的鼓舞。一位社会组织的法人告诉笔者,“近年来政府出台了很多鼓励社会组织发展的政策,并且注册的门槛降低了,3万元就能注册一个社会工作组织。跟着政府政策走,始终是正确的。他还说自己政府部门有认识的人,他们告诉自己社工发展是大趋势,鼓励自己去成立一个社工机构。”

其次,受周边其他人的影响。一些社会组织注册者看到自己周边从事相同行业的人都在注册,认为自己也不能落后,因此就注册了。据笔者了解,有的社会组织创办者,一个人拥有四家社工机构。

 

第二,社会工作机构创办者为非社工专业科班出身

据调查,滨州市90%以上的社会工作机构创办者不是社工科班出身,他们或者是做家政的,或者是做房地产生意的,甚至还有包工头去注册社会组织。这些人,他们根本就不懂什么是社会工作,只是一味的跟风。笔者曾和一位社会组织的创办者交谈过,他告诉笔者“哪懂什么是社工啊!自己看到别人在做也就去做了,另外自己是做家政的,本身也是为民服务的,社工不也是为人民服务的吗?说不定自己创办了社会工作机构以后对自己的家政公司更有利了,据说做公益可以为公司免去一定的税额”。从谈话内容可以看出,他创办社工机构的主要目的是为了让自己的家政公司更好的营利。这也许是多数商人创办社会组织的真正目的。我们都知道社会工作是非营利组织,如果一开始就以营利的目的去创办,那么社工的性质就给改变了,公益这条路也不会走的长久。

第三,社会组织孵化基地入驻社区,自由度受限。

在滨州市,大部分社会组织的办公场地是在社区内,这就受到社区管理人员时间、空间的限制。据社会组织工作人员透露,他们的办公场地是在社区内,时间上要和社区人员的工作时间一致,既不能早到也不能晚走,早到了人家不开门,晚走了会被锁到社区里,自己的工作任务仅靠在社区里的那点办公时间是远远完不成的,只能回家加班。另外搞活动也要看社区人员的脸色,尤其是开展青少年的活动,因为小孩子们比较吵闹,社区人员就不让在工作时间搞,只能将时间定在周末。笔者曾在广州市一家社会工作服务中心实习过,广州当前的运行模式是家庭综合服务中心,我们不能说家综一点弊端也没有,但至少那里的工作人员拥有属于自己的工作场地,不管是在时间上还是活动空间上都是自己支配的。这样在任务完成上和活动开展上的效果会更好一些。

我们不可能要求中小城市社会工作机构的发展程度能够达到北上广发达城市的水平,毕竟是刚刚起步,能够入驻社区也是社工发展道路上的必经之路,但这一步一定要慢慢的跨过去,让社工拥有独立活动的自由天地,是社会工作机构发展的必然要求。

第四,没有一个完善的社会组织团体,不能接受到“新鲜血液”的输入。

在大城市,都会成立一个属于社会工作者的团体如:社会工作协会,这个民间团体在促进社会工作力量的成长方面发挥了巨大的作用。在小城市,基本不存在专门的社会工作团体,这在一定程度上阻碍了社工的成长。滨州市于2016年5月份正式成立社会组织创业中心,目前有50多家社会组织入驻,这对滨州市的社会组织来说是一个里程碑。但目前,社会组织的作用仅仅停留于将全市社会组织聚集在一起,宣布项目招标情况。如果该创业中心能够为社会组织经常地开展一些培训,聘请社工督导为社会组织负责人进行社工知识的讲解,输入“新鲜的血液”,及时了解外面社工发展的情况,社会工作服务机构将会更加迅速的成长。此外该组织并没有成熟的组织体系,其负责人都是街道办事处的领导,行政色彩比较浓厚。

第五,政府业绩成效的速成要求与社工机构的疲于应付并存

当前社会工作机构的运行模式主要是项目化运作即政府购买服务,这种运作模式为社会工作的发展注入了新的生机与活力。目前,北上广等大城市的项目化运作模式相对来说比较成熟,但是在中小城市这一模式刚刚处于起步阶段。政府眼中的社工就是帮助他们快速解决问题快速实现业绩的一个中介。因此在项目招标时他们重点强调的是解决看得到的东西,能够量化的东西。我们知道,社工解决的是社会问题,社会是由人组成的,人的改变需要一个过程,而这决不是一两次简简单单的培训、游戏所能完成的,它需要宏观层面的社会政策、社会倡导、社区参与和中观层面的小组工作以及微观层面的心理调适齐头介入。但政府人员不这么认为,他们想看到的是实实在在的物质层面的或者换句话说能够用肉眼直接看到的,可以用数字指标衡量的东西。笔者曾经与滨州市一家社工机构的项目负责人小张聊过天,他告诉笔者:“虽说是政府项目招标,但最后做的和项目书上写的完全不一样,政府想要得到的是量化的东西,像社区工作、小组工作我们只能用最快的速度完成,即找找人拍拍照应付一下就可以,个案工作我们直接不需要做,政府人员认为这种心理上的介入短时间内是起不到太大作用的,有时社区、小组工作都不需要做,政府直接给我们安排好人让我们联系讲师进行培训,社工仅仅是一个资源链接者的角色,并不能发挥自己专业的技术力量”。从小张的话语中可以看出当前中小城市社会工作者处于一个尴尬的境地,一方面他们急需得到政府人员的项目资金,另一方面他们必须按照政府的要求去完成项目指标,比如完成几场培训,社工的角色有很多,讲座仅仅需要社工发挥链接资源的角色,只有让社会工作者发挥自己的能力,亲自去做一些活动,才可以真正体现一个社会工作机构的宗旨与理念,否则机构简介上写的“助人自助”的价值理念只是一句空话。曾经有一位政府官员问过一名社工“你们社工自己可以做什么?”这句话真的需要每位从事社会工作这项职业的人员的思考。

以上是笔者自从事社会工作这项职业以来思考的几点问题。总之,中小城市的社会工作机构还处于一个起步阶段,不管在机构运行还是在项目实施方面都不是很成熟,这需要借鉴发达城市的社工发展经验,需要更多“新鲜血液”的输入。我们相信在中国社会工作快速发展的大背景下,中小城市的社会工作机构也必将会茁壮成长起来。

 

[1]作者简介:马青萍(1991- ),女,福州大学社会工作硕士研究生,目前是山东省滨州市众智社会工作服务中心的一名社工,联系方式:15266703790,邮箱:1370624672@qq.com.

Translated by Luo Bing, Huang Jie

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