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In the roles of social change agent, leader, and advocate, human services professionals have many responsibilities. At the regional level, multiple or missing standards, guidelines, laws, and regulations may pose challenges to human services professions. As a human services professional, you should be aware not only of your responsibilities, but also of any regional-level challenges you may encounter when attempting to fulfill your responsibilities.

To prepare:

  • Select a regional-level challenge related to human and social services professions and/or the roles and responsibilities of human and social services professionals. This should be a challenge you or the human services profession might face when attempting to address issues at the regional level, such as funding or available resources. Regional may include but is not limited to your local community, geographical zone, county, state/province, or surrounding locality.
  • Then, think about why addressing the challenge is important to the profession, as well as what difference the challenge’s resolution or improvement might make.

With these thoughts in mind:

By Day 4

Post the name of your region, as well as a brief description of the challenge you selected. Explain why addressing this challenge is important to the profession and what difference its resolution or improvement might make. Explain how you might apply change, leadership, and/or advocacy theories and processes to address the challenge. Describe the ethical challenges that might come into play when attempting to address the challenges. Be specific, and provide examples to illustrate your points.

Note: Put your challenge in the subject line of your posting. You will be asked to respond to someone with a different challenge.

Mind the Gap! The growing chasm between funding-driven agencies, and social and community knowledge and practice

Caroline Lenette* and Ann Ingamells

Abstract The field of human services is increasingly adopting narrow practice

approaches, driven by contemporary funding priorities. Such approaches

reflect a reductionist understanding of human need, and run contrary to

the wisdom, accumulated knowledge, experience, evidence and ethics of

social and community development work. Drawing from a small group of

refugee women’s accounts of everyday challenges as well as their efforts

to develop personal agency in resettlement, this paper highlights the

mismatch between the complexities that such women face in everyday

settlement processes and the focus of services available to them. It

argues for a more responsive person-in-environment focus that could

enable and enhance women’s own efforts and aspirations for themselves

and their children. The current tendency towards case management

and away from community development is contributing to what we call

the diminishing architecture of community development, and therefore

represents a shift that is difficult to reverse. Refugee settlement work

requires developmental actions within the cultural group, between new

arrivals and the host community, and between new arrivals and the host

society’s resources systems and structures. Concurrently, the field

needs to reclaim a broader paradigm of human service practice allowing

for joined up, locality-based, capacity building work that is responsive

to people, contexts and specific issues emerging over time. A broader

funding paradigm that values social and community knowledge and

*Address for correspondence: Caroline Lenette, University Drive, Meadowbrook, Queensland 4131,

Australia; email: [email protected]

& Oxford University Press and Community Development Journal. 2014 All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: [email protected]

doi:10.1093/cdj/bsu024

Advance Access Publication 24 March 2014

Community Development Journal Vol 50 No 1 January 2015 pp. 88 – 103 88

practice, locality work and enables on-going, incremental, proactive changes

is also needed.

Introduction

‘La musique, la danse, les amis, le rire’ (music, dance, friends, laughter).

These were part of Camille’s1 life before civil unrest erupted in the

Democratic Republic of Congo, separating her from family members, and

forcing her to abandon everything to seek asylum. Safe now, Camille finds

life in her tiny unit to be sadly lacking in music, dance, friends and laughter.

Camille was part of a small group of refugee women who participated in an

ethnographic project with eight women who arrived in Australia as refugees.

The quote above is drawn from the first author’s reflections during fieldwork

over a 12-month period in 2008 and 2009, where the women participated in

interviews and constructed their own digital stories to document narratives

about their mental health and wellbeing. Their stories followed the intricacies

and complexities of their everyday lives indicating a mix of resilience and

despair. There were instances of personal agency, producing feelings of well-

being, as well as struggle, loneliness, isolation and states of mental health that

reflected harshly in their physical bodies and family lives. The study did

however show that for women who were sole parents, the settlement

journey could be a challenging and often lonely one. Indeed, participating

women were supported by human service agencies upon their arrival and

continued to intermittently access agencies where basic services such as

housing, employment and language classes were concerned. However,

they felt largely alone in establishing their lives in Australia. The women

themselves called it ‘learning to stand on our own two feet’, and they were

conscious of not asking too much from agencies or from their communities.

Their stories touched us, evoking respect for their resilience, but raising ques-

tions about how such families can respond to their own aspirations, when

they have access to fewer social relations and community capital, and experi-

ence tight financial circumstances, paired with limited basic support from

human service agencies because of tight funding.

The field of refugee resettlement is certainly a challenging one:

One major issue facing those working with refugees is that they are likely to

find themselves in the position of what is now frequently referred to as social

exclusion (or marginality: Wolfe, 1995), and in a number of dimensions:

exclusion in relation to the labour (or livelihood in rural contexts) and

housing markets, from community and social services, from political

1 Pseudonyms are used for all research participants.

Mind the Gap! 89

participation (in its widest sense), and from involvement in organizations

which might give them a sense of identity or control over their own futures

(Craig and Lovel, 2005, p. 133).

As academics involved in human services research and teaching, and with an

interest in refugee issues, the women’s experiences caused us to confront the

very significant chasm between the theories and practices in an academic

context and those currently embedded in fields of practice. In our own

approach, we draw on a range of theories, including broad sociological and

cultural theories [such as cultural safety (Ramsden, 1992)] and theories of

intersectionality and plurality (Vervliet et al., 2014), and a range of theories

relating to knowledge and practices of community development work

(Westoby, 2008, 2009; Ingamells, 2010).

The women’s stories confirmed our view that human services and commu-

nity development work, in many domains, is narrowing to a pragmatic,

atheoretical, transactional approach in the interests of addressing basic

needs in fairly uniform ways. In Australia, settlement services provide

basic supports for people on humanitarian visas during the initial stages,

which usually include assistance in finding accommodation, income

support, English language classes, orientation to health and medical services,

and accessing training and employment [Department of Immigration and

Border Protection (DIBP), 2013]. The Department believes that some of

these outcomes (namely securing accommodation and connecting with ser-

vices to meet identified needs) can be achieved within 12 months of arrival.

After the first few years of resettlement, people are expected to have achieved

self-sufficiency, have ability to access mainstream resources and find social

support through their families and the largely unfunded activities of their

ethnic organizations. The refugee women in the study had been in Australia

between two and five years, and all experienced a solitary struggle, although

the lone women (five out of eight) expressed that most poignantly.

Drawing the stories together, that study articulated a rationale for commu-

nity development as an important means of linking new settlers to members

of the host community and to activities and opportunities that reflect the

settlers’ aspirations. In retrospect, we know that, like so many research find-

ings, this will have little impact on funding or practice. Similarly, much of

the breadth and scope of our teaching will rarely find expression through

graduate practices in the field. Indeed, in Australia, we are witnessing a

decrease in community development practice; it can confidently be said

that the architecture to support community development has itself largely dis-

appeared. We argue then that the practices currently embedded across most

social fields, while increasingly complex in managerial terms, fall far short of

the kinds of engagement implied by the helping professions’ commitment to

90 Caroline Lenette and Ann Ingamells

social justice and empowerment [as outlined for instance, by the International

Federation of Social Workers (IFSW), 2012].

We want to contest the view that organizing multicultural festivals2 and

volunteer settlement programmes (Refugee Council of Australia, 2012)

alone constitute community development. As the name suggests, community

development is a method of working that builds and mobilizes the capacities

and capabilities of a community (Ingamells, 2010; Macleod, 2010). In this case,

the community is geographic (suburb or region of residence), linked by

shared circumstance, and linked through shared ethnic identity. So there are

(at least) three layers of community to be engaged with. Where there have

been community development approaches over time, both capacity (Steiner

and Markantoni, 2014) and capability (Ingamells, 2010; Lewis, 2012) are

present to some extent. Capacity refers to the various resources at a commu-

nity’s disposal and capability refers to the ability of the community to work

those resources to achieve local agendas. Capacity is visible in people’s

organizations, community groups actively engaged with issues and people

in their communities, relationships between people within their groups

and between groups, local leaders who know how to relate with various

individuals, groups and larger organizations (churches, schools and NGOs)

that understand how to auspice and support communities as they progress

agendas. Capability is the know-how that underpins all of this. That

know-how involves how to form and run groups, analyse and determine

agendas, how to reach people, and include and engage them and their agendas.

The paper then recapitulates some aspects of the women’s accounts to iden-

tify their description of everyday challenges as well as their efforts to develop

personal agency as they negotiate those challenges. The final part considers

two important points: firstly, the mismatch between the complexities that

such women face in everyday settlement processes and the focus of services

available to them, and secondly, ways in which a responsive person-in-

environment focus could open areas for community development practice

to further enable and support women’s own efforts and aspirations for

themselves and their children. This paper thus provides an analysis of the

diminishing architecture of community development, and how this is increas-

ingly unlikely now to be an intervention strategy of choice.

While there are many implications of this discussion, the three that most

disturb us are that:

(i) The current funding-driven focus on the most vulnerable means

that many people who are endeavouring to cope alone can be

slowly losing ground until they reach that most vulnerable point;

2 As attested by the Queensland Government’s large Valuing Diversity Grants Program (2014).

Mind the Gap! 91

(ii) The human services have long recognized the need for a develop-

mental, preventative, early intervention focus that supports

people’s efforts to stand on their own two feet; yet, the professions

have largely let go of the struggle to uphold this in the policy and

funded practice domain; and

(iii) Whether the focus is on refugees, people with mental illness, with

disabilities, or in poverty, Aboriginal people or young people

struggling to find meaning, a professionalized intervention is not

enough. There also needs to be a focus on building the kinds of

communities that have intent, capacity and capability to include

and enable people across various stages of their life journeys.

This then is not a research paper (see Lenette et al., 2013 for full account). What

we argue here is that a narrow practice based on a reductionist understanding

of human need is being driven by contemporary funding priorities, and this

runs contrary to the wisdom, accumulated knowledge, experience, evidence

and ethics of social and community development work. Such a narrow

approach is likely to leave many people in an invisible slide into deeper

forms of vulnerability [Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS),

2013]. Importantly, the depth of the women’s narratives analysed using an

intersectional framework (Vervliet et al., 2014) demonstrates that nuanced

understandings of lived experiences are also required in the field. We focus

on refugees, but the thesis is relevant to many other groups who may be ex-

periencing high levels of vulnerabilities and living at the margins. We draw

on the study of refugee women because it provided instructive data illustrat-

ing the chasm between funded practice versus practice grounded in theory,

evidence and ethics. Our aim here is to argue for a reclaiming of the wider

bases of practice, and in particular a reclaiming of community development

work. Only then can the findings of studies like the one discussed here have

applicability. Having established our objective, we now turn to the women’s

stories to understand their resettlement journeys as sole parents.

Standing on our own two feet

Lone women and the settlement experience: cultural relations

Camille now lives with her daughter, younger sister and niece in a small

rented unit in a low socio-economic outer Brisbane suburb. Camille spends

most days at home alone, cleaning and cooking, and watching TV to occupy

her time while learning English. She wants to work, but she has neither the

right qualifications nor the right experience. She drives around the

neighbourhood even though she does not have a driving licence. How else,

she asks, would she get to courses or health appointments? There is no one

92 Caroline Lenette and Ann Ingamells

else Camille can rely on. She has a range of health issues, which bother her

because she was always so healthy and active. She reflects that members of

her community are suspicious of her single status and gossip about her. She

ignores it, remaining connected to them so that she does not find herself

totally isolated. Confined to the four walls of her unit, music, friends, dance

and laughter are sadly lacking in her life now. At the same time, this is a safe

space. It is her space (paraphrased from Lenette, 2011).

If there is a line between resilience and despair, Camille, of all the women in

the study, straddled it most uncomfortably. She has housing, shelter and

income support. She is raising her daughter, attending English language

classes and managing routine cleaning and cooking tasks. A number of

themes are evident in the summary above: firstly, she is finding her life

drab. She wants the warmth of social engagement (music, dance, laughter

and friends) that she found in her community of origin, but those networks

are not recreated here. She is driving illegally. She invests in superficial rela-

tionships where she does not feel valued to avoid isolation. She sees a job as a

way forward, but has no conduit to employment opportunities she would

enjoy. She admits to health problems but is unsure how she is meant to get

better. A key theme for Camille is her changed relationship to people of her

own culture. The vibrancy she once experienced in her home country has

given way to suspicion and gossip. She responds to this by treading a fine

line between engaging far enough to keep social isolation at bay and main-

taining a distance to protect her sense of self.

All of the lone women in the study discussed the challenges in maintaining

their culture in the new setting; for instance, one woman said, ‘We are here in

Australia but we didn’t forget our culture’ (Malika, Burundi). Parents remind

children, who quickly integrate into Australian culture, that they have a

culture at home:

Australia is our second home, but again I told my children, we have to make

sure we have a home back home. Time will come when we’ll need to go back

and visit back home, at least we have a land, we have shelter there. And also

[the children] they have to keep communicating back home. They should

not forget about home or forget about our culture because we live in

Australia (Maeva, Sudan).

The main strategy for re-establishing cultural relations here is participation

with others from their own ethnic group. This takes a number of forms

such as attending weddings, celebrations and rituals, actively participating

in social activities with their ethnic group, helping others who are newly

arrived to settle and attending church services with the ethnic group as a

family. However, the decision by women to raise children on their own

instead of re-marrying yielded challenges on several fronts:

Mind the Gap! 93

It is really challenging, even in the community (. . .) nobody will listen to you,

because they just think you are a single woman. . .When you are successful,

you work, you educate your children, like myself, I did everything, all I

could to educate my children. I don’t know if it is jealousy or anything,

instead of appreciating as a single woman manage to do all that, now they’ve

come up with strange stories, they don’t believe that I can do that (Maeva,

Sudan).

Additional pressures did not only come from male community members, but

also from women who were married and thus ‘followed the norm’: ‘Married

women do, they make it harder for other women. Like you are born, the

system is like that, so you just follow the rest, without questioning why is it

like this’ (Maeva, Sudan). This exclusion from other women contributed to

the participants’ sense of isolation (see Lenette, 2013).

Some of the lone women assisted newly arrived families to go through the

difficult stages of resettlement by sharing their home and resources, despite

their own precarious situations. They drew on their own experiences as

recent migrants to support others grappling with the requirements of this

new context, as one participant explained: ‘We can keep on learning from

one another, those who have been here for longer can help us who are

facing difficulties in settling in a new environment, we can support one

another and be there for one another’ (Eva, Sudan). The women wanted

to encourage their children to assist others no matter what their own

situation. Such values were important in the women’s social worlds, even

though their limited time and resources meant further sacrifices to keep

afloat. Despite their efforts and contributions to community, lone women con-

tinued to feel excluded because of their status. The community’s scrutiny

extended to their child-rearing abilities, and the women’s ‘success’ was

measured according to their children’s scholastic performance and overall

behaviour:

In fact being single, the community sometimes they consider that a woman,

that is just a perspective or a belief they have, that a woman cannot bring up

children, because they consider women as the weaker person or the weaker

sex, that can’t manage a lot of things. . .The way the community perceives it

is so negative. If the children are disciplined, it’s ok, if they are not well

disciplined, they will blame you, the mother (Maeva, Sudan).

Like Camille, other women articulated that they would not isolate themselves

from their communities, despite the scrutiny and gossip: ‘I am a single

woman, I maintain my dignity, whatever assumptions they have or belief

they had about single women I will not make a mistake, not make anything

94 Caroline Lenette and Ann Ingamells

which will prove I’m not an upright woman’ (Maeva, Sudan). For some

participants, solace came in meeting with other lone women:

But when they are in their company by themselves, [single women] are

happy (Eva, Sudan).

So I say, why don’t we come up with a group of women? Maybe we meet

once a month, it rotates from each home, so that it keeps that connection

(Maeva, Sudan).

New relations in the new setting: community and belonging

Lone women not only experienced significant difficulty in re-establishing

relations with their own community, but also often felt isolated from the

wider Australian community: ‘Everybody is by herself. There is no connec-

tion anymore. Children they have friends in schools, they can communicate

with their friends, they have their books. But with single parents, you find

that you are all by yourself ’ (Maeva, Sudan). Children’s quick adaptation to

local systems and in particular the Australian culture—which was often

seen as undesirable but necessary—increased the generation gap, underlin-

ing the isolation of their mothers: ‘Even my children speak English, and

some of them study in high school. My youngest child speaks English very

well like other Australians’ (Malika, Burundi).

Participants encouraged their children to develop links with people

outside their ethnic communities, although this often caused them stress.

They expressed fear in relation to the changes they saw happening in their

children including their ready embrace of Australian culture, while

knowing very well that this was necessary for their children’s wellbeing.

Sole parents had no opportunity to discuss children and child rearing with

other members of the Australian community, so it was often hard for the

women to know how other parents managed to guide their children amidst

so much apparent freedom:

Dealing with one or more teenager(s) in the house really affects a single

parent’s mental wellbeing. It is more difficult for those who have difficult

children who don’t cooperate with their parents, and huge language barrier,

makes them struggle every single day of their life (Eva, Sudan).

Some of the women themselves had benefitted from links with other Austra-

lian community members. For instance, participants recalled positive experi-

ences with technical and further education (TAFE) teachers or co-workers

who assisted them in securing employment and improving English language

skills. However, few had on-going relations outside their ethnic group and

therefore felt little sense of belonging to the wider Australian community. Im-

portantly, language remained a significant barrier, especially for women who

were not employed and had few opportunities to speak English. In the home

Mind the Gap! 95

context, it was not unusual for the family to converse in different languages,

but rarely was English used routinely at home. Children therefore quickly

surpassed their parents in language skills, and the mothers experienced

this acutely as increasing their sense of isolation.

Rebuilding social life in the new context: re-establishing personal agency

The women in the study shared that they had moved from more collectivist

cultures into a relatively individualist socio-cultural context. While they all

exhibited personal agency in coping with everyday tasks, the women also

experienced frustration when they could not progress things that would

benefit them and their families. That participants bought into the dominant

Western discourse of self-reliance was evident from their determination not

to become a burden on agencies and communities, but rather to soldier on,

alone. Nevertheless, raising children, learning the language, working out

how schools operate, learning to drive, pursuing further studies, finding

employment, these were significant challenges as much as opportunities

for the women.

Some actively sought independence through work and education; one

woman gained employment in the non-government sector, using skills

acquired before forced migration to Australia. She found it hard juggling

work, family, study and community obligations, as well as being a regular

spokesperson to government, but she maintained a strong commitment to

all of her roles. Several women strove to improve their skills and qualifications

by going to TAFE colleges or university, as they were conscious of the

additional opportunities they could access with Australian qualifications.

For instance, participants explained their commitment to learning English:

I learned English through TAFE, commitment, and lots of practice in

speaking, reading and writing. I set a goal that I want to achieve, which I

think contributed very much for my learning English (Eva, Sudan).

When I came from Africa I couldn’t speak English. But now I can. . .Now I

study at TAFE, I communicate with others very well, I want to know English

very well and finish Level III, because I want to get nursing job again

(Malika, Burundi).

The women’s sense of independence was palpable in their desire to acquire

practical skills such as driving and obtaining a licence. In the absence of

male assistance to learn this skill, lone women sought the support of local

non-government organizations for subsidized driving lessons:

I had opportunity to learn driving for free. That is interesting thing. When

I’ll have my licence, it will make me a big different; I will get a good job, easy

transport for me and my family, easy to do shopping, take or pick up

96 Caroline Lenette and Ann Ingamells

children at school etc. I will have a good life as soon as possible (Malika,

Burundi).

They wanted to be mobile and independent, not only to improve their every-

day lives, but also to set an example for their children. The women could iden-

tify which everyday practical skills they needed to facilitate the process of

navigating through complex situations in Australia. It is gradually, through

having to take the initiative, persist and learn that the women developed per-

sonal agency in the structures of their new setting.

A broader framework: practice and infrastructure

The women’s complex circumstances conveyed in the narratives above

prompted us to reflect on how wide the gap between practice and lived real-

ities is growing: here, we offer some thoughts on how this trend can be mini-

mized from a community development perspective.

Valuing community development practice

One of the distinguishing features of human service theorizing since the earli-

est days of the profession has been a concern with people’s environments, as

espoused, for example, in the International Federation of Social Workers

(IFSW)’s (2012) Statement of Ethical Principles. When working with people

who resettle to Australia as refugees, it is especially important to work with

the person and the social dimensions of their environment (Lenette et al.,

2013; Fong, 2005; Kemp, 2001). Concurrently, the role of human services edu-

cation is to prepare practitioners for increasingly complex settings, where

they are well equipped to understand and engage with a multiplicity of

issues as part of their practice frameworks (for instance, Suárez, Newman

and Glover Reed, 2008). Our observations of the field suggest that, in

reality, while students have been exposed to a range of practice modalities,

new practitioners often display skills to work with people on an individual

level but struggle to make sense of broader community or

person-in-environment processes. Their limited expertise in that area is exa-

cerbated by increasingly constrained practice frameworks around them and

the funded context they work in.

From a narrow settlement perspective, the women in this study can be said

to be on their way and ‘integrating’ according to government policy terms.3

The contemporary neoliberal concept of self-reliance is at odds with a practice

3 This assumption is not vastly different in other contexts. Consider, for example, Vervliet et al.’s (2014)

exploration of social categories linked to unaccompanied refugee mothers in Belgium, which revealed

significant gaps between migration policies and the women’s accounts of transacting their environments

as women, refugees, mothers and community members.

Mind the Gap! 97

perspective, which recognizes that people’s lives take shape and meaning

from the networks, social processes and social structures they are part of.

These either provide the scaffolding to move through various domains of

their lives, or they constrain, inhibit and baffle individuals and communities.

It is through participation in broader social processes that refugee communi-

ties can access social capital, or not (see for instance Daley, 2009; Zetter, Grif-

fiths and Zigona, 2005). One way of framing the practice purpose of

community development is to enhance the relationships between persons

and the networks, processes and structures of their social, economic, cultural

and political contexts (Macleod, 2010).

Based on extensive engagement and on-going dialogue with South Sudan-

ese communities, Westoby (2009) argued that refugee distress resulting from

war, loss, torture is also about disruption to cultural life, social life and sense

of agency in the resettlement country. He argued that the bio-medical model

of individual healing is not, in itself, enough. Rather, more