The Recipients of Social Services
Despite all the interest that has been shown in welfare needs and social services over the years, it is surprising how little we know about the recipients of these services. We do have some information about the demographics of low-income families and an occasional study of low-income neighborhoods. But we know little about how people go about seeking social services, why they choose some service organizations rather than others, what they understand the motives of those from whom they seek assistance to be, and whether they regard these caregivers as trustworthy and effective. These are the topics I consider in this chapter and in the following two chapters.
Listening to the voices of those who are the beneficiaries of service organizations is especially important if we want to understand the place of these organizations in our society. From the reports of clergy, church members, and volunteers, we may be persuaded that faith-based organizations are providing an enormous array of services to their communities. But is this the way people who need these services feel? Do they consider the help they receive adequate? Are they happier about the services they receive if these services come from people of faith than if they come simply from professionals for whom faith makes no obvious difference?
Through the research I conducted in the Lehigh Valley in northeastern Pennsylvania, I was able to explore the views of low-income families about their needs and about the services of organizations they turn to in trying to meet these needs. The information comes mainly from a survey of the Lehigh Valley that collected responses from approximately two thousand people living in low-income neighborhoods and from 140 in-depth interviews conducted as a follow-up to this survey. Before turning to that in-