Critical Analysis of a Human Service Organisation
IF ever a segment of society was in need of a „break‟, it‟s that motley crew of social outcasts who are, or have been, on the wrong side of the law. Who else, I ask you, is so universally despised that politicians – always on the lookout for unpopular, easy targets - want to “rack „em, pack „em and stack „em in jail”? 1 The „man in the street‟ would dispute a criminal‟s being due some positive karma. A not atypical view from suburbia might be articulated thus: “but s/he transgressed! S/he deserves all the blame/punishment/trauma/discrimination/indignation s/he gets!” Fortunately, we‟re all Social Workers, and that means we put such judgements aside, right? No-one is beneath our altruism – our only criterion is need – and there are few needier people than those at the mercy (either incarcerated, on bail or out on parole) of our justice system. Thank Heavens, we believers in Social Justice might say, that here in SA we have Good Samaritans like the folks at OARS Community Transitions. In researching OARS, I initially relied on its website, some promotional literature and an interview with its Social Inclusion and Enterprise Manager, Dot Stagg. From the phalanx of pamphlets Ms Stagg sent me, I discovered that Offenders Aid & Rehabilitation Services (OARS) is a voluntary community association that – in various incarnations - has been helping offenders and their families in South Australia since 1886. From a promotional spiel on the OARS website, I learned the organisation began life as the Prisoners Aid Association, “grew and evolved in response to the changing needs of clients and the changing face of justice administration”, adopted the well-known moniker of OARS SA in 1977 before finally re-inventing itself as OARS Community Transitions just last year.2 The OARS website and promotional material went on to describe this Human Service Organisation (HSO) as a secular, community-based, non-profit Non-Government Organisation (NGO) employing 55 staff and with about 90 active volunteers. Its service users (referred to as clients) include people released from prison, their partners and children. Services include counselling for drug and alcohol abuse, gambling, financial planning and general counselling.3 OARS employs a Youth Worker and provides unspecified “prison services” and “emergency assistance”, vague terms contained in OARS literature about which I couldn‟t gain further clarity.4 OARS Community Transitions also runs a number of supported accommodation (half-way) houses across Adelaide and at Murray Bridge, Port Augusta, Port Lincoln, Berri and Mt Gambier.5 When I asked Ms Stagg if former prison officers still play a security/keep-the-peace role at these houses (as they have in the past) she answered rather emphatically in the negative. “We aren‟t a continuation of prison,” she said. “All our residential clients answer to case workers, not former prison officers”. Asked whether OARS has a specialised client body, Ms Stagg said the organisation caters to all races, creeds and colours. However, it‟s fair to say OARS does cater to a specific, economically-depressed demographic: the homeless, low income earners, educationally-disadvantaged people, usually white males but with an overrepresentation among Aboriginal Australians. Anyone in or at risk of entering the justice system is OARS‟ base constituency, a sector which also includes the mentallyill. There is a waiting list for residential places and some other services, although in some cases people receive assistance “off the street”. According to Ms Stagg, “no-
Written Task 2: SOAD 9106. By Andrew Melgaard-Lerché, Student #2078018
one” is turned away by OARS, which she says receives a mix of self-referrals, names from other agencies and clients from SA Corrective Services. Most of OARS‟ funding these days comes from the Commonwealth...