Self-help groups in the South African context : a developmental perspective.
The purpose of this study was to explore the possibility of linking the formal social service delivery system, represented by professional social work services, with the informal system, represented by self-help/mutual aid groups. The developmental research model described by Thomas (1978a, 1978b, 1981, 1985b) was selected as appropriate to the goal of moving beyond the acquisition of knowledge to that of the application of knowledge by practising social workers for the benefit of clients. In the first part of the study the historical and social factors which contributed to the development of the self-help movement in South Africa were explored. The second part of the study focused on the knowledge, attitudes and practices of Durban social workers in relation to self-help groups and established the feasibility of the proposed development. A 75,6% response was received from a questionnaire distributed to all qualified social workers in the Durban area. One hundred and sixteen social workers (51%) who indicated that they were willing to participate further in the investigation were then interviewed. Through the questionnaire and the interview, social workers became cognizant of self-help groups, the nature of their services and the range of possible roles and relationships with them. Mutual aid/self-help groups were found to be part of a strong historical and cultural tradition in South Africa. Many groups had developed as a response to the inadequacies of state welfare services. Social development and change functions coexisted with the service and citizen participation attributes of groups established in post-industrial economies. The social workers were found to have generally positive attitudes to self-help groups and to be engaged in a variety of activities in interacting with them. The conclusion demonstrates that the findings have implications: first, for social welfare policy, particularly in relation to the issue of privatisation; secondly, for social work practice, in that the linking of formal and informal services would be feasible and that the need exists for collaborative interaction between the two; thirdly for social work education which needs to combine theory-building with the application of theory in practice.