Applied Sociology: Social Work is Not Enough

Young people on the street are very familiar with the systems, and the social workers they provide, as their resource for attention and care.

Social work has developed from its roots of compassion to now be an academically certified skill set charged with the responsibility of interpreting and delivering ‘help’ as defined by government policies. The kindness and compassion of ‘helping’ remains a large part of the ‘worker’, but the weary application of pragmatics and caseloads that defy personal energy remain a significant challenge.  Case workers struggle to be sufficient replacement for families and caring community in the lives of young people without traditional supports.

Social work training is focused on problem solving with individuals.  But there are significant factors in the way society works and impacts young people that cannot be addressed in single life conversations.

The role of Sociology becomes essential. Sociology sees and studies how society functions as a whole. It particularly emphasizes that social perspective is never just about a person or persons and their actions, but also that the context in which people are and do, is critical to understanding a broader view of what is.

Sociology theories attempt to explain how society impacts people and groups and systems and the ways they relate. Applied Sociology is the matching of a thought process to a current society context that is not functioning well, to discover (using social imagination) what kind of intervention could be useful to effect social change in that situation.

The Doorway was designed as Applied Sociology … by an invitation to imagine and create a non-traditional opportunity for young people seeking to leave the streets. Engagement in their own self-determined change is the foundation.

We learned that they are capable without opportunity to demonstrate that to a mainstream world. They have been controlled and managed by the data collected by their ‘systems and agencies of support’ … and are in a ‘box’ from which they cannot escape, defined by the labels, files and stories that follow them. They need individual opportunity to use their own agency to take charge of their own lives to learn how to be an independent adult in society.

Unlike when we began, we are now seeing that current strategies of ‘helping’ young people are destroying their sense of autonomy and self-determination. Youth are made comfortable to rely on systems to manage their lives. Our ‘helping’ is robbing young people of a critical piece of themselves they need to become and sustain their role as adults in society.

The role of community remains critical. We have learned that as we believe in young people, they learn to believe in themselves. ‘Community’ do not receive wages. They are people who bring their humanity to stand beside young people because they choose to be there.

To be continued…


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