Speak Up With Respect And Courtesy

A letter from K.V. VELOO

Consultant, National Council of Social Service (1994 – 2002)
Director, Welfare Services Division, Ministry of Community Development (1987 – 1993)
Director, Community Development, Ministry of Community Development (1982 – 1987)
Speak Up With Respect And Courtesy


I spent about 40 years of my life in the social work profession – starting as Probation and Aftercare Officer at the former Ministry of Social Affairs in 1964 and wrapping up my career as a consultant to the National Council of Social Service in 2002.

As social workers, we are in the helping business, serving individuals and families in need or distress. We touch lives, heal rifts and build bridges.

As a social administrator in the civil service or in the voluntary welfare sector, one must implement policy directives based on values that are ethical and constructive. It has been said, “Service to Man is Service to God.” Compassion and empathy for those we serve is central in being humane. Our job is often to take the bull by its horns, charge ahead and rake in some value for the policy decisions made by our superiors and political holders. There is, however, room to seek a re-examination of policies before implementation if we think that there is something amiss or our conscience pricks us. We must have the courage to do so. We have to speak up with respect and courtesy.

For example, in 1993, an amendment to the Probation of Offenders Act was proposed to stop the courts from making an order of probation where the offence attracted a mandatory prison sentence. At that time, I was Director (Welfare). I sought an audience with my Minister and pleaded that an exception to the rule be made for first-time young offenders between the ages of 16 and 21. They needed a second chance. To my delight, he saw the value of my argument and as a result, first-time young offenders were spared a mandatory prison sentence and were eligible for probation.

There is, however, room to seek a re-examination of policies before implementation if we think that there is something amiss or our conscience pricks us.

Similarly, when the Destitute Persons Act came up for a review in the late 1980s, I sought the inclusion of a provision in the amendment that would provide for periodical monitoring of the status and progress of every resident committed to a welfare home for destitute people. Such a review was not there and it was sad that residents were detained for life. The Minister then appreciated the proposal and as a result, residents are now reviewed yearly to assess their suitability for discharge from the welfare homes.

We must speak up when we foresee problems. But after we have spoken and the policy has been discussed and then decided, it is then our duty to implement it faithfully because our bosses may have other considerations (that we are not privy to) in coming to a decision. Our work, either as social workers or social administrators, carries certain burdens. These must be viewed as pleasant responsibilities and, indeed, challenges. In doing so, we will find that they provide a sense of satisfaction in selfless service and enhancing our learning curve.

In my memoir (Life and Times of a Social Worker), I wrote that if I had to live my career again, I would learn to work smart, leave my office on time and even take up yoga to put my monkey mind at ease. But in reality, especially in today’s context, I think that would be hard to do. One’s life just isn’t one’s own. When you’re about to leave your office, a boy or his parents may come in to seek help and advice and you just cannot walk away from them.

Social workers share an in-built service mentality where they believe that everyone has the capacity to grow and change. It keeps us doing what we do.

A word of caution to young budding social workers: one’s idealism must be tempered with a sense of practical realism. The people whom we try to help may want to stand on their own, but are often unable to do so because of circumstances beyond their control. Social workers must have a high tolerance for let-downs, disappointments and frustrations. You will need a good head and a kind heart.

    Sep 1, 2014
    K.V. Veloo
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