Not a solution at all? Communities and social policy.
Abstract: Bryson and Mowbray wrote about the uncritical use of the term community by governments in 1981 and ways in which 'evidence-based policy' in relation to communities became little more than a 'catchphrase' in 2005. Both articles appeared in the Australian Journal of Social Issues. This paper reports research that utilised qualitative methods to gather data on subjective, practical meanings of community in one local government area of South Australia to assess the goodness of fit with the language of community contained in social policy. It is argued that in 2009, community, as it is applied by social policy makers, has little resonance with the large body of research around this topic or the current situation of individuals and families and this results in a poor match between the intentions and outcomes of social policies aimed at communities.

Keywords: Community, Evidence-based Policy
Article Type: Report
Subject: Local government (Australia)
Local government (Terminology)
Community (Analysis)
Terms and phrases (Usage)
Author: Clark, Alice
Pub Date: 12/22/2009
Publication: Name: Australian Journal of Social Issues Publisher: Australian Council of Social Service Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Sociology and social work Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Australian Council of Social Service ISSN: 0157-6321
Issue: Date: Winter, 2009 Source Volume: 44 Source Issue: 2
Topic: Event Code: 970 Government domestic functions
Product: Product Code: 9300000 Local Government; 9200000 State & Local Government NAICS Code: 92 Public Administration
Geographic: Geographic Scope: Australia Geographic Name: Australia Geographic Code: 8AUST Australia
Accession Number: 212759606
Full Text: Introduction

Australian governments develop social policies as a political response to social issues that affect society generally, such as health and education, with the intention they will benefit all citizens. Other policies target specific groups of people including individuals who are unemployed, families who rely on welfare payments and communities where disadvantage is present, aiming to reduce poverty and inequality, build social capital and address social issues.

Currently, individuals who are unemployed are required to meet certain responsibilities under mutual obligation policies through activities around seeking and securing paid employment. It is proposed that employed people have the capacity to build social and economic capital that will act as a resource that will benefit them, their families and the 'communities' in which they live while also acting as a remedy for social problems. Family groups are expected to be supportive of individuals (McClure, 2000:39) and also strive to become seff-reliant. Thus communities are described as tangible entities that can support and nurture individuals and families whilst being the target of specific programs and projects aimed at improving them. Communities are also expected to take responsibility for their own well-being (McClure, 2000:39). Clearly, not all individuals are capable of gaining and keeping employment with only minimal support. Not all families are supportive and where there is family violence, neglect or abuse, families can be a source of stress and anguish rather than support. As an abstract entity that means different things to different people, a community does not and cannot provide support to all its members, merely based on geographic location or some other notional categorisation such as cultural heritage. Current definitions of community in social policy emphasise homogeneity rather than diversity and this ultimately leads to the preservation of the status quo of society. Community services and programs do not always engage those who are most disadvantaged and are therefore ineffective in reducing disadvantage or addressing social problems and social exclusion. It is unrealistic to base social policy on positive assumptions around the capacity of families and communities to support individuals and families.

An example of how the term community is used to describe groups of people because of a shared geographic location and cultural heritage appears in the Report of the Northern Territory Board of Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse (Northern Territory Government, 2007). The Report refers to initiatives for 'Aboriginal Communities' and contains recommendations about 'community attitudes', 'community norms' and 'engaging in dialogue with communities'. This implies that all people who identify as Aboriginal and live in the same location 'belong' to one tangible entity. Indeed, it infers that this group of people can and will engage in conversations with governments and government agencies as well as sharing attitudes and norms. Other projects and programs aimed at particular geographic communities, such as urban renewal projects in Australia, also suggest that people who live near each other constitute a community solely because of their physical proximity.

In 1981, Bryson and Mowbray wrote about communities and community provision of welfare services, naming community as 'the aerosol word of the 1970s because of the hopeful way it is sprayed over deteriorating institutions'. In 2005, the same authors wrote about communities again with a critique of the evidence that supports links between communities and social capital arguing that 'what is represented as 'evidence' is selected, embellished, distorted and applied so as to support existing policies' (Bryson and Mowbray, 2005:92). The research described in this paper supports the notion that current uses of community in social policy continue to be only precariously linked to the creation of social capital, they are not evidence-based and nor are they an adequate vehicle or an appropriate site to address social problems. It is argued that these basic disparities result in a poor match between the intentions and outcomes of social policies that aim to ameliorate the causes and effects of poverty.

Background & Rationale

This research was conducted in the City of Salisbury, South Australia as a doctoral candidacy funded by an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant to the University of South Australia and the Corporation of the City of Salisbury (local government). The partnership arrangement reflects the considerable interest in understanding the nature of today's communities in the academic world and by government at all levels. The Salisbury Council has particular reasons for this interest. It is one of South Australia's largest Local Government Areas and in 2006 the population was 118,000 (ABS, 2006) but is characterised by multiple disadvantage, with people living in particular suburbs in the area experiencing the most serious socio-economic disadvantage evident in Australia (Glover and Tenant, 1999; Vinson, 2007).

Salisbury is approximately 25 kilometres north of Adelaide. The traditional landowners are the Kaurna Aboriginal people and in 1881 the white population of Salisbury was between 400 and 500 people, predominantly farmers. In 1940, the Federal Government built a munitions factory at Penfield and homes were built for the workers in Salisbury, doubling the population to approximately 4,160 by 1947. In 1950 the former South Australian Housing Trust (now Housing South Australia) embarked upon a post-war residential development for an influx of British and European migrants and within a few years there were around 1,100 double units in Salisbury North.

By the 1990s, the Housing Trust owned 37 percent of all homes in Salisbury North and the homes were in need of maintenance and no longer met the housing needs of residents. The ten year Salisbury North Urban Improvement Project (SNUIP) commenced in December 1998. More than 500 Housing Trust homes were earmarked for renovation and 500 were to be removed to make way for 800 new private housing allotments. As well as rejuvenating homes in the area and providing an expanded choice of housing, the project provided an opportunity to upgrade physical amenities. Attention was also paid to the social needs of residents through funding for a community development worker and a number of community development projects.

In addition to indicators of disadvantage, social problems exist in Salisbury, including many sole and teenage parents, crime, vandalism, and drug and alcohol abuse (Cameron, 2005; Slee, 2005). Evidence confirms that many people residing in the Salisbury Council area experience serious personal, social and economic problems (Glover and Tennant, 1999) as well as fearing for their safety, and not experiencing a sense of belonging to their neighbourhood. These issues have a detrimental effect on peoples' well-being and can disadvantage them in terms of their access to education, health care, employment and social support.

While disadvantage and social problems are evident in other geographic communities where there are areas of concentrated poverty (Sampson, 2001:5), two factors make them particularly interesting in Salisbury. Firstly, the situation persists despite current social policies, and considerable government and non-government resources directed at supporting individuals and families as well as activities such as social and sporting clubs, human services, neighbourhood houses, multi-cultural events and youth programs in the area. The 2001 Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage includes all variables collected in the 2001 Population Census that either reflect or measure disadvantage. These include low income, low educational attainment, high unemployment and jobs in relatively unskilled occupations. Inner North Salisbury and Central Salisbury are amongst the lowest scoring areas, confirming high levels of disadvantage (Elliott et al., 2005:2). Australian Bureau of Statistics data from 2006 confirms that there are still significant numbers of people living in Salisbury in very low income brackets with over three thousand households earning less than $250 a week, almost six thousand on a weekly income between $250 and $500 and over 5,000 households with a weekly income of between $500 and $650 per week (ABS, 2006).

Secondly, alongside those on a very low income, there are people who have higher levels of well-being and who are comparatively affluent, a living example of the effects of social divisions and social stratification. ABS 2006 Census data confirms that there are almost equal numbers of households on extremely low incomes (less than $12,500 per annum) as there are on high incomes (more than $100,000 per annum) (ABS, 2006). The Salisbury Council wishes to understand and respond to issues of entrenched disadvantage so that all residents can share the area's overall rising prosperity. Both factors occur in a social policy environment that focuses on communities and aims to increase social capital through social and economic participation.

The doctoral candidate's background is in social work, social policy analysis and community development. Working closely with people facing multiple disadvantages such as drug and alcohol issues, homelessness, interaction with criminal justice system, long-term incarceration, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect raised questions about people's sense of belonging to any wider group or community, their capacity and their motivation to participate in shared activities and social policies aimed at these groups of people. Multiple issues and disadvantage mean that their lives are often chaotic and they are unable to engage with human service providers, support services or fulfill mandatory job seeking activities. Working in this environment led to an interest in looking at practical meanings of community, the interface between social policies and their implementation, how to engage disadvantaged people in services and research, and more inclusive research processes, in keeping with the funding objectives.

The complete literature review from the doctoral thesis is not reproduced here but some of the most influential ideas on the approach to the research are briefly discussed and then appear throughout the remainder of the paper. Jim Ire (2002) applied a community development perspective to defining communities in the Australian context that includes a large range of interrelated components that resonate well with exploring practical meanings of community. Firstly, human scale is important. This is related to the difference between large-scale, impersonal or centralised structures and those where people know one another, can readily get to know one another and can interact (Ire, 2002:80). Secondly, community incorporates a sense of identity and belonging, reflecting the idea of 'membership of a community' (Ife, 2002:80; Naparstek and Dooley, 1998; 2002; Blakely et al., 2006; Page, 2006) as membership, in turn, influences personal identity. A lack of identity and membership are commonly perceived as 'one of the problems of modern society' (Castells, 1997). Thirdly, membership of a community brings both rights and responsibilities, inferring some level of active participation. Fourthly, communities allow people to interact with each other in many different ways and fulfill various roles that encourage interactions (Ife, 2002:81). Lastly, culture is important and communities can provide an 'antidote to the phenomenon of mass culture' when a local culture develops over time fife, 2002:81).

Mark Peel's (2003) Australian work and David Page's (2006) research in the United Kingdom were also influential on the research. It is clear that people talk about communities and social problems in much the same way across space and time. Peel's work discusses ideas about nostalgia and social problems in a very similar way to the participants in this research and Page confirms that in terms of a sense of belonging time does makes a difference--the 'original families and their descendants', who were the first inhabitants of a new housing estate, had the strongest loyalty to the estate and felt they belonged there (2006:45). Newcomers had a more difficult time settling in and experienced a mixture of loyalties. Those who had earned respect and were accepted felt the same about the housing estate as the original families, but those who had not been accepted felt much less loyalty and belonging, and were more likely to only stay short-term (Page, 2006:45). Members of this third group were not considered locals. If people identified socially with one of these groups it could affect their behaviour and their sense of belonging to the housing estate. Other researchers who have examined different types of housing and housing tenure to shed light on social connectedness (Stone and Hulse, 2007) have also found causal effects between the lengths of time people have resided in an area and their sense of belonging and this is an important part of defining communities. These factors also provide an important clue about the barriers and supports to participating in research and social and shared activities as without a sense of belonging there may be little motivation or interest in doing so.

Methodology & Methods

Critical theory and Participatory Action Research informed this research. An historical examination of the contribution of Karl Marx to the origins of critical theory reveals that its purpose in research to bring about social change (Seidman, 1994:45) and pursue socially just outcomes is still relevant in today's society. Critical theory emphasises the inclusion of unheard voices that emanate from those who do not or cannot normally participate in such exercises. Placing social issues and problems in context assists in bridging the gap between theory and practice. Specific attention was paid during the recruitment process for this research to include those who are 'hard to reach' (Brakertz et al., 2005), a term representative of the idea that it is difficult for institutions, like local governments, to engage minority groups, it is not intended to 'blame' those who do not participate in civic activities for their lack of participation. The subjective experiences and social identities of individuals are contextualised within their families and the areas where they live as well as recognising the historical, societal and structural forces that affect them. By attending to inclusionary methods, this research fulfils the general requirements of research that utilises a critical perspective--to explain and interpret the experiences of those involved, to empower them, and to disclose the myths and illusions around the issues involved (Sarantakos, 1998:40).

Participatory Action Research

Informing the choice of methods for this research was Participatory Action Research (PAR). According to Sarantakos (1998:113), action research is characterised by the following elements: the researcher's personal involvement; the emancipatory nature of the research; the researched's active involvement; and its opposition to certain established policies and practices. These factors 'set action research within the parameters of the critical perspective' (Sarantakos, 1998:113).

A broad approach to problem-solving and effecting social change were the major reasons PAR was selected as most appropriate approach to this study (Hart and Bond, 1995:3). It was also utilised specifically to bridge the gap between theory and practice, in keeping with critical theory, to develop a critique of social conditions that potentially sustain inequality (Hart and Bond, 1995:5, 20). The research 'explicitly and purposefully' became part of a change process (Patton, 1990:157) by engaging participants in the process of shedding light on meanings of community and participation as well as identifying social issues that were of interest to inform the Salisbury Council's social policies and programs.

Primary data was collected via group discussions and in-depth individual interviews, and was used to build on the analysis of secondary data including social policies, other research and academic literature in order to meet the requirements of including the subjective and objective elements of critical theory. Primary data was transcribed, thematic analysis undertaken and a summary of this provided to research participants for comment.

Forty-six people who lived and worked in Salisbury in 2006 participated in this research and offered insights into whether or not they felt a sense of belonging to Salisbury, what community meant to them and about social issues in the area. This relatively small sample size was appropriate and practical for a doctoral candidacy considering it is the relevance of the units of information that participants offer rather than the number of people studied. Data was collected and analysed until there were no new themes to emerge (termed 'saturation'). Participants were recruited by attending the meetings of organised groups and human service providers in Salisbury and asking those present to participate and to invite someone else they knew to participate, who was not already active in any formal groups or activities. On occasion this involved returning a second and third time to speak with the groups. This approach was used in an attempt to engage a second layer of participants in the research process who may be more likely to be disadvantaged, especially those who were younger, older, disabled, unemployed, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander or from a non-English speaking background (Brackertz et al., 2005).

Research participants were asked to provide their demographic data as a voluntary aspect of their participation. Thirty-six participants chose to provide this information. Of these, five were younger people aged between 18 to 25 years and nine were older people of 66-plus years of age. Twenty-nine people indicated that they lived in Salisbury, fourteen indicated that they worked in Salisbury and none were homeless. Five indicated that they had a disability and four that English was their second language. One person identified as being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and a second person stated verbally that she was Aboriginal but did not wish to be identified as such. Two people with a disability were amongst seven participants who stated that they were unemployed and two indicated that they were sole parents. Eight participants lived in public housing. The recruitment methods were relatively successful in engaging participants living with some disadvantage.

Belonging & Community

In keeping with the research aims, research participants were asked if they felt a sense of belonging to Salisbury. The majority of research participants said that they did have a sense of belonging but to their own neighbourhood, street or suburb, not the entire geographic area of Salisbury, which extends beyond it. Many said that the reason for feeling they belonged was that they had grown up in Salisbury, had always lived in the area, now also worked there and would 'never want to leave'. It appeared that their connections to their physical surroundings had been built over longer, rather than shorter periods of time as suggested by Page (2006). There did not appear to be any participants who had only lived in the area for a short period of time.

Research participants were asked what community meant to them. They answered by building on their explanations of their feelings of belonging, suggesting that these are linked. The majority of participants talked about their 'sense of community' and the presence of a 'community spirit' and a 'community feel', as well as having 'community links' with others. However, the meaning of community was unquestionably about relationships with acquaintances, neighbours, friends and family living locally. This confirmed that their communities played an important part in their lives; that they cared about where they lived and this was characterised by the presence of a network of people who were familiar to them, friends and family around them. One participant stated that he had a sense of community because of:

One participant talked about the importance of belonging and relationships by contrasting these themes with the way people commonly refer to the 'Salisbury Aboriginal Community', a way of grouping people together because of their cultural heritage and geographic location. He said that for him, rather than seeing one community it was more like seeing many different, smaller families 'dotted' around Salisbury. He also thought that families have less in common with each other now than in years gone by, pointing to the diversity that exists between families and the differences that can exist within families and groups. If community does consist of neighbours, families and friends that are different for everyone, and feelings of belonging and a sense of community are not automatic, people will experience their community differently and it is necessary to question again why any particular group of individuals or families are referred to as constituting a community and why they are selected as the targets of social policies or human services on this basis.

Overall, research participants talked about their communities in a very positive way and, implicitly, the various roles they valued of neighbour, friend or family member. One participant said that people working at the local shops who knew him by name were 'his community'. Meanings of community were very personal and individual. Research participants confirmed that for them, relationships were a central ingredient of what community meant and they related their experiences of the close human relationships that constituted their strong ties or 'bonding' social capital with many also experiencing 'bridging' social capital through their participation in formal groups or activities. These relationships and social connections imply the presence of trust, norms, networks and reciprocity--which are also elements of social capital. However, these findings do not prove any causal relationship between bonding and bridging social capital except to say that they were aspects of how people described their sense of belonging to their community.


In explaining what community meant to them, many research participants compared their current situation to the way it was in the past. Discussions revolved around the presence of traditional nuclear families, with 'dad at work and mum home with the kids', implying that married couples with children and a male breadwinner were once the norm. For example, when housing estates in Salisbury were new and people initially came to live in them, they experienced similar family types, housing and employment and therefore a more shared social identity and more equal social and economic standing. Today, however, there are many differences in the types of housing and housing tenure available. Families are also more diverse and there is a mixture of people arriving and leaving. Research participants thought that having much in common created more of a 'vested interest' in what went on in the street or neighbourhood than exists today. Participants also widely believed that children were safer in the past than they are in the present and talked about a loss of community spirit:

How people view the past and compare it to the present relates to nostalgia, a concept that has been critiqued in the academic literature for many years. According to some, it is one of the 'dominant themes in contemporary Western history culture' (Davis, 1979; Lowenthal, 1989; Johannisson, 2001). Some consider feelings that a loss of community has occurred over time are often 'interpreted as nostalgia for an ideal that never really existed' (Ife, 2002:14). Others suggest this refers to an idealistic village model of living when communities were static and stable, several generations lived near each other, people worked locally and their 'sense of identity' was based on that type of geographic community (Hughes et al., 2007:3) similar to the communities that are represented in social policy.

One explanation of why people feel nostalgic is that they are unhappy with the present and lack confidence in the future (Holtorf, 2003). A criticism of this view is that nostalgic feelings are idealistic, do not acknowledge the realities of the past or its divisive and oppressive elements, and work against social progress (Picketing and Keightley, 2006:919). Another way of looking at nostalgia is as a natural response to a modern world experiencing terrorism, war, increasing natural disasters, global warming, environmental crises, major outbreaks in epidemic diseases, and growing poverty and inequality. Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that people experience fear, see a bleak future and long for the past. Yet another way of looking at nostalgia is as a yearning for the way life ought to be, what is socially desirable and free from such disturbing events (Ife, 2002:79). Whatever view one takes of the past, the value of trying to recapture some of the feelings of safety and optimism that are associated with it, and whether or not it is possible to place them back in the present, can be questioned. It may be possible to develop some of the idealistic elements of society that have had a positive effect on human relationships in families and communities in the past. Idealistic visions of the future need not be unrealistic, but can provide the basis for social action and drive 'a community's purposes and functions' (Magrab, 1999:11).

Feelings of nostalgia can be linked with meanings of community as they are often accompanied by a loss of identity with others over time (Holtorf, 2003). A greater sense of shared identities and people who had more in common in the past may have been due to these types of more homogenous communities. However, such normative descriptions ignore the ways in which communities can be divisive, oppressive, and full of tension and conflict. The conservative view of individuals, families and communities found in social policies, in some ways reflects a similar nostalgia, which can be deeply alienating to large groups of people. These narratives need to be 'questioned, challenged and put into place' (Tannock, 1995:456). Peel (2003:60) has proposed that stories about the past are not simply 'nostalgia' but a 'mourning for the loss of whatever security and certainty' people had found there, that the past is always:

... being repackaged as a safer, better, happier and more agreeable place: it is a time before thieves, when you left the doors unlocked, when everyone respected older folks and people always meant well and there weren't the tensions and divisions that we have today. (Peel, 2003:60)

Lowenthal wrote at length about nostalgia in 1989 and it is perhaps his understanding of it that most accurately captures the feelings associated with it that are relevant to today's individuals and families. While people are constantly living and interpreting the present, the past seems to be clearer and more coherent because we can 'stand outside the past to view its more finished forms, including its now knou, n consequences for what was then the unknown future' (Lowenthal, 1989:30). This view seems to makes sense when people who are diverse and fragmented live in a shared geographic location.

Regardless of which view of nostalgia is accepted, many people, including research participants 'lament the loss of a sense of community in local neighbourhoods' and this is characterised by 'a decrease in interaction among families', which, in turn, works against community building (Morrison et al., 1998:107). Having less in common with neighbours can result in a lack of being able to identify with others who are 'different'. These ideas align with Page's (2006) research in the UK and Peel's (1995) historical account of Elizabeth in South Australia, which have identified that the safety and security of the past is not simply nostalgia but is descriptive of people having more in common with their neighbours in the past and less in common with them today. If this is the case, nostalgia need not be a barrier to progress. As Pickering and Keightly (2006:919) have suggested, understanding why people feel nostalgic may assist to inform a way forward in a fragmented environment. Therefore, activities and programs that address diversity and work to break down barriers caused by difference should be given priority in efforts to address social problems.

Social Problems

Research participants were asked to describe the main problems and social issues in Salisbury. The majority of participants said that increased numbers of certain groups of people, including public housing tenants, new people coming to live in the area (and not staying for long), younger people, different ethnic groups, Aboriginal people, divorced people, sole parents and unemployed people were thought to be the cause of a 'loss of community' in Salisbury. This may have been based more on stereotypes rather than a deeper understanding or personal knowledge of individuals who are seen as being different. Research participants also identified the same groups of people as causing social problems in the area and people who congregated at the Salisbury Interchange (train station) were cited as the main social problem in Salisbury. Participants said that they felt unsafe there, which deterred them from using public transport, but such feelings were not due to their actual experiences of being directly approached or threatened by any individual or group. Seeing Aboriginal people, 'gangs' of young people, those thought to have drug and alcohol problems, and be unemployed 'hanging around' the Interchange was the reason given for this opinion. Participants viewed their mere presence as threatening. One discussion centered on 'all the unemployed people' who hang around at the Salisbury Interchange. Even though no one had actually seen them or identified them as being unemployed, they had 'read about them in the paper', confirming the media's role in creating stereotypes and a fear of people who are seen as being different. One participant commented as follows:

Research participants said that young people cause social problems in Salisbury and discussed groups and gangs of young people 'roaming the streets', not having anything to do and 'hoon drivers'--doing burnouts and speeding around the local streets. One participant thought this could be caused by truancy, low school retention rates and a 'general disregard for the family unit'. Young people who cause social problems are common in other areas where disadvantage is present. They are seen to be 'out of control', and they appear threatening because they hang around in groups or gangs, and 'don't have anything to do' (Page, 2006:40). Loud parties were attributed to young people and public housing tenants, and public housing was itself cited as causing problems. Sole parents (called 'single mothers' by research participants) and people with a mental illness were also seen as a cause of social problems in the area. These were the views of research participants despite describing themselves as belonging to the same groups via the demographic information they provided as people who were younger, public housing tenants, unemployed, sole parents or disabled. For example, one research participant, herself an unemployed sole parent in receipt of welfare benefits, quoted 'single mothers on the pension' as one cause of social problems in Salisbury.

While it could be concluded from the research participants' responses that they had stereotypical, discriminatory and blaming opinions of these 'different' groups of people, many showed empathy toward them by suggesting that the reasons these groups of people cause problems is that they need more support, have low self-esteem or need more constructive activities to keep them occupied. While agreeing that young people do cause problems, one participant thought that providing more support to children is one way to create a better society, stating that:

Others have identified similar groups of people and blamed them for causing social problems (Peel, 2003:60). In one community, Inala, it was the 'young, the 'transient' renters, the Aboriginal gangs' who were identified as the cause of social problems and a loss of community, while in Mount Druitt it was the 'single mothers, the Aboriginals and the Pacific Islanders' (Peel, 2003:59). Page (2006) and Furbey et al., (2006) in the UK, and Peel (2003) and Cavaye (2000) in Australia pick up on ideas about common aspects of past life and the sharing of common identities. People who are new in a suburb can weaken a common sense of identity amongst locals because of the loss of longer-standing, original members and relationships and there is a potential to strengthen divisions when locals encounter new arrivals they consider different or 'other'. Locals may not interact with newcomers or may only engage with them superficially. Therefore, people who are experiencing disadvantage do not warrant concern from their fellow human beings, which can result in the social isolation of individuals and families who are disadvantaged and unable to cope with everyday life without support.

Research participants said that many of the groups blamed for a loss of community spirit and causing social problems were public housing tenants. The number of public housing properties and figures about how tenancies begin and end in Salisbury do not shed light on the circumstances of all public housing tenants and whether or not they cause social problems. However, current Housing SA policy has moved toward a model of welfare housing for those with the 'highest needs' (Maude, 2005:33), as reflected in the Needs Assessment Criteria (Housing SA, 2006). This has resulted in many new tenants being those experiencing multiple problems and disadvantage, who are therefore socially excluded (Maude, 2005:33).

People moving into a new area would be unlikely to have any sense of belonging to their new surroundings. Meeting the needs criteria is likely to indicate that new tenants would be experiencing particularly pervasive social and economic disadvantage. The effects of discrimination against people because of their status as a public housing tenant would compound on other disadvantages or social divisions. For example, factors such as a disability, different cultural heritage, age, sexuality or gender can compound discrimination, making it even more difficult for people to form relationships. This then affects people's capacity to participate socially.

These issues reflect some of the particular difficulties that might face newly arrived migrants and refugees. When compared to other Local Government Areas, there are higher numbers of new arrivals coming to live in Salisbury. In 2006, 576 migrants went to live in Salisbury compared to 45 in Gawler, 137 in Playford and 327 in Tea Tree Gully (Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 2006). It is not known how many of these people were housed in public housing however, if feelings of belonging are related to the length of time people have lived in a neighbourhood it is likely that new arrivals face increased barriers to social participation.

There is no clear proof from any publicly available data that public housing tenants, or the sole parents or their children who live in public housing are the only, direct cause of social problems in South Australia, despite the fact that they are often blamed for them. Further research is required to prove or disprove a causal link between transience and social problems.

A 'good' example of community development

It is necessary to question how much ideas about community development have changed, and whether or not they are still at the heart of engaging individuals and families and developing opportunities for social and economic participation. It appears that many social policies and human services fail to impact on the most disadvantaged people in society because important elements of community development are either not present or overlooked. These deficits result in the inadequate engagement of individuals and families in planning processes, the monitoring or evaluation phases of service delivery, and a lack of stakeholder ownership.

The participation of people who will be affected by projects and programs (stakeholders) in defining issues and problems, and their resulting design and management, is critical to their success (Maclennan, 1998:47; Conway and Konvitz, 2000:757) and engenders what is commonly called 'community ownership'. Unfortunately, stakeholder ownership is one aspect of the community development literature that seems to have faded from the forefront of modern discourse around community participation and engagement. Stakeholder ownership is not always easy to achieve when policies and services embrace a top-down approach. It appears difficult to attain for many of the same reasons that prevent citizens being active in civic issues, inflicting on individuals and families the 'solutions' to problems identified by governments and human service providers. However, it is argued that stakeholder ownership is a vital component of effective community development.

One excellent human service model based soundly on the principles of community development currently exists in Adelaide, overcoming many of the problems faced by human services providers generally, in terms of connecting with stakeholders. The model also incorporates stakeholder ownership and works with local leaders, utilising these aspects of community development to harness the motivation of stakeholders and enabling them to identify needs. The program that operates under this model is called Children and Families Everywhere in the City of Enfield and is known as CAFE Enfield. It incorporates a partnership arrangement that has successfully negotiated the issues around power differences between service providers and clients. The CAFE Enfield Manager provided information about the program as a PowerPoint presentation to the Salisbury Council in April 2006 (Children and Families Everywhere, Enfield, 2006). In this model, human services for families are co-located and integrated in a safe, life-long learning environment where children's needs are paramount. Funding for a community development worker was provided from the very beginning of the project and the worker applied community development principles, including accurately identifying stakeholders and establishing stakeholder ownership. This resulted in parents from the local school being involved in planning and decision-making from the beginning. Attention was paid to the importance of shifting power relations and power was 'given away' from service providers to parents during the process. Workers took a strengths-based perspective, focusing on clients' accomplishments, coping abilities and successes. They recognised that forming and maintaining relationships are important to health and well-being, as are opportunities to volunteer at the centre and commitment to establishing stakeholder ownership. These activities require time and effort on behalf of all involved. In order to work this way staff were given time to meet, reflect on practice, access support, debrief and pursue professional development activities, aspects not always present within other models of human service delivery.

The CAFE Enfield Manager stressed the importance of human relationships as a basis for building self-esteem and addressing individual and family issues. If the model is to be replicated, these issues cannot be overlooked. Methods of successfully identifying stakeholders, establishing trusting relationships between service providers and clients, gaining stakeholder ownership and ensuring their continuing involvement must be incorporated at the planning, implementation and evaluation stages of human service provision.


The language of community in social policy is often ambiguous and uses very narrow definitions that are both conservative and nostalgic, emphasising collectivism and mutual support even though society has become increasingly individualistic and unequal. The nostalgic use of community in social policy could mirror the feelings of nostalgia held by research participants and be an attempt to capture and perpetuate romanticised ideas about close-knit, pre-industrial village communities where everyone knew each other and helped each other in contrast to the 'less flattering aspects of community life such as racism, spousal abuse and homophobia' (Wark, 1999:269). But this explanation is unlikely. Conservative definitions ignore the changes that communities have undergone over time (Forrest and Kearns, 2001; Ife, 2002; Kerr and Savelsberg, 2001), do not accurately identify the ways that communities develop and function or the ways they can be divisive rather than inclusive (Crow and Maclean, 2006) and only provide a convenient rhetorical solution to social problems. In reality, many Australians live their lives across different fragmented communities of interest while others find themselves without any communities to which they feel they belong (Hughes et al., 2007:3).

Exploring the importance of relationships, how they are formed and ways in which they can be inclusive or exclusive enables a closer look at the issues related to the implementation of social policies (Furbey et al., 2006:7). Despite the many applications of the term community, in a practical sense the term inherently describes the nature and strength of relationships between individuals, families and communities, individual attachment to others and feelings of belonging. Communities are a mosaic of relationships with family, friends, neighbourhoods, organisations and across geographic communities at large (Cavaye, 2005:6).

If government's objective is to improve the causes and effects of poverty, strengthen individuals and families and build social capital then evidence based policies are required. The language of social policies and their directions may have little immediate effect on the everyday lives of people living in poverty. However, social policy is an integral part of a body of ideas represented in political discourse and if discourse can negatively affect people living in poverty and experiencing disadvantage, making changes at this level also has the potential to create a more beneficial environment. Demonstration of a philosophical and conceptual commitment by government to better defining communities at the policy level and in policy implementation has the capacity to begin to alter the dominant discourse around 'poor people in poor places' (Cattell, 2001:1501; Page, 2006:138) and create a more socially just and equal society.

When developing social policies, an approach to defining communities that takes into account its theoretical and practical meanings is required--an approach that relies on evidence-based policy. Thus, accurately defining communities to incorporate notions of identity and belonging and understanding how people belong to communities (if at all) are crucial aspects of developing social policies as well as in their planning and implementation through local projects and activities. Forming and sustaining human relationships, and participating in social and economic life, thus building social capital requires a certain level of personal resources. Lacking these resources, and therefore lacking these relationships, may result in social detachment, social isolation and social exclusion. Therefore policies and programs that build basic personal skills, build individual capacity to form supportive relationships and be socially included are needed as a prerequisite to requiring people to meet obligations to participate in job-seeking activities. Priority should be given to projects and programs that bring individuals and families together with the aim of supporting positive interactions between them, increasing their knowledge of minority and disadvantaged groups and that achieve stakeholder ownership.


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Friendly local people who know me, gives you a feeling of
   community, like an anchor in a way.

We used to look out for our neighbours, like look after people
   coming and then new neighbours started moving in and thinking
   we were sticky beaks, so suddenly they didn't want us looking
   out for them and a lot of the community spirit went.

Oh, just one day we was sitting on there, I don't know what
   was happening but just one person I think he is drunk, but to
   me I think it looks like a man, to something like that, I don't
   know why, I'm not gonna take my kids and sit in there or
   something, yeah you know.

Some of the kids that hang around and just beat people up all
   the time and stuff, you don't get born like that if you know
   what I mean, and I think that's one of the most important things
   in a society, if you're going to have a good society you have to
   start off with the kids, because a lot of people when they get a
   bit older they're hard to change but kids are pretty easy to direct
   in the right way.
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