Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

The Promotion and Disruption of Community Service Delivery Systems (1)

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

The Promotion and Disruption of Community Service Delivery Systems (1)

Article excerpt

Introduction

Community services, known internationally as personal social services, are the key operational vehicle of our response to various forms of dependency across the lifespan. At some point in virtually all of our lives we will be users of community services. For some people, such as people with disability, that use is lifelong. Despite their obvious importance in people's lives, for a significant part of the modern era of the welfare state community services were not a primary focus of social policy analysis. More recently that situation has begun to change (McDonald and Marston, 2002). Indeed Thomson (2002, p. 108) claims that welfare system studies of the social care of vulnerable populations (of which this is an example) have recently resurfaced as a subject of debate in international social policy studies. Certainly that is the case in Britain, and in the United States.

In Britain, the resurgence of interest in service delivery systems has largely materialized from the reorganisation of the social service departments of local authorities, and the associated application of new public management and contractualism in social care (Hiscock and Pearson, 1999; Charlesworth, Clarke and Cochran, 1996). In that country and in the United States, the functioning of service delivery systems was and is largely conceived as a problem of coordination. These issues have, under British New Labour, increasingly been subsumed within a framework of partnerships in a reformed model of welfare governance (Clarke, and Glendinning, 2002). Reflecting the dominant theme of coordination, in the United States the primary term employed in the literature about human service delivery systems is that of service integration. Reviewing a substantial empirical literature going back to the 1970s, Bolland and Wilson (1994) for example, note that fragmentation and poor coordination characterised a variety of human service policy domains (for example, mental health, substance abuse, aged care, child abuse and homelessness).

In 1997, Waldfogal claimed that service integration in the United States had moved to a second phase. The first phase, she argued, was largely concerned with administrative reforms to hierarchical service delivery systems. Its origins was found in the Model Cities program (Hassett and Austin, 1997), when efforts were made to coordinate the administration of largely publicly delivered health, education and welfare programs at local levels. This program and its successors were not seen as successful and were discontinued in the mid-1970s. The second (current) phase is substantially different in that, like Britain, it entails significant shifts in the governance and financing of welfare, moving away from hierarchy, towards markets and networks. The advent of this phase prompted Ralph Kramer, an important scholar of American social welfare policy to comment in 1994, that as far as he knew, no research had been undertaken about the impact of service delivery reforms that took the service delivery system as the unit of analysis.

In Australia, the first 'phase' or local version of the same impetus to reform the entity that we call the service delivery system was found in the activities of Regional Councils for Social Development of the Australian Assistance Plan in the 1970s. These councils, established throughout the country, were responsible for planning and coordinating services in their regions (Graycar, 1978). It is generally accepted that the councils were a flawed, if not failed initiative (Graycar and Davis, 1979). Evaluations, such as the Task Force on Co-ordination in Health and Welfare (1997), the South Australian Community Services Sector Review (1992) and Fine (1995) continue to report difficulties with service co-ordination. More latterly, contemporary local approaches to what can be considered to be the same problem domain have included such proposals and trial processes as place management (Walsh, 2001) which, like the approach of New Labour, largely revolve around the reform of governance. …

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