The term ‘private sector’ simply refers to the part of the national economy which is made up of private enterprises. In other words, it is part of a national economy that is not controlled by the government, (Raper, 2000). This includes the corporate sector (companies) and the personal sector (households), which are responsible for the allocation of most resources within an economy. On the other hand, ‘community sector’ is an Australian term referring to organizations that provide community services hand in hand with small, locally-based organizations having adjacent activities such as social welfare services, legal services, the arts and employment services, (Ohlin, 1998). The community sector is also referred to as the third sector in reference to the public and private sectors. The community organizations involved in this sector are primarily non-profit-making, self-governing and separate from the government. Both the private and community sectors play an important role in the planning and provision of social welfare services. According to Ohlin (1998), effective delivery of social welfare by the named sectors involves a well-defined system providing support to nurture and sustain the functioning of individuals groups and families to maximize their potential for development and to enhance the well being of a community. In view of this, this paper focuses on the roles and responsibilities of the private and community sectors on social welfare delivery, particularly in Australia.
The role of private and community sectors in the delivery of social welfare
The Australian private and community sectors have played a long-standing role and are still actively involved in many aspects of the provision of social welfare services to the Australian community. Specifically, they provide a wide range of services including provision of education, health services, accommodation, religious services, legal advice, counseling services, childcare and distribute food and clothing, (Hitchcock, et al, 2003, p. 34). Organizations in these sectors provide the aforementioned services to different sections of the Australian community including young people, families, unemployed, the aged, the homeless, people with low incomes and people with disabilities.
Over the last decade, various reforms have been made seeking to increase Australian private and community sectors’ involvement in the delivery of social welfare services by the government of Australia. According to Commonwealth Secretariat (2009, p. 81), the Australian government has introduced the privatization of social welfare delivery programs through a competitive tendering process, a move that is aimed at minimizing government expenses and to improve the social result. In addition, it has been actively encouraging partnerships between the community sector and the private sector. This has significantly helped to reduce the monopoly of public sector in provision of social services and to exploit the benefits that community and private organizations can bring to social service delivery frameworks in the form of diversity, innovation, sensitivity and flexibility to the task of providing the services to local communities, (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2007, p. 352). Generally, the step taken by the Australian government is important in addressing a difficult question on how to maximize the benefits and reduce risks and undesirable consequences of the reforms by increasing the role of community and private sectors in social welfare delivery.
According to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, (2007, p. 352), many private and community organizations have been able to take the advantage of the situation and consequently, they have grown considerably, leading to increased market share and influence in policy development. At the same time, these organizations are struggling with issues related to corporate identity and good practices as consumer pressure in regard to corporate social responsibility increases. As Poole & Wood (2003) further explain, the private and community sectors in Australia are under increased pressure to perform (due to increased social problems at the high cost of the community) and thus, they find themselves in the public spotlight for various reasons. Organizations in these sectors cannot afford to seek back and allow the public sector to develop solutions to social problems on their own. Rather, they have to adopt the best business methods, increase their effectiveness and document their unique knowledge for them to have the effective force of change and a credible partner to governments and businesses at all levels, (Poole & Wood, 2003). In other words, these sectors need to be proactive in order to pave way for the rest of the Australian community to join in their efforts to create long-lasting, positive social change.
Specifically, the private and community organizations have a duty to move a deficit model to a positive approach to programs that aim at inspiring individuals to get actively involved in shaping their lives and addressing their problems. To achieve this, for instance, the third sector needs to move from service-centered to client-centered program and service delivery and this will enable the client to be actively involved in the design, implementation, and delivery of a welfare service that he or she participates in. This requires recognition that one size does not fit all, Lerner (2003, p. 158). Further, this requires recognition of the need to be preventive and proactive instead of taking a reactive approach to problems facing individuals. To ensure effective delivery of social welfare services, both the private and the third sector have to adopt a decentralized community control of assessment needs within the community, design appropriate welfare delivery policies and programs and ensure the laid projects are well implemented. Further, the third sector have a duty to account for the results, which goes together with data collection and dissemination of knowledge and skills gained for benchmarking purposes, (Lerner, 2003, p. 158). The two sectors have a role to play in enhancing the long-term sustainability of innovative programs that provide social welfare services to the Australian community. According to (O’Connor & and Sacco 2002), this is achievable through enhancing relevant and consistent evaluation of what works and what doesn’t and why. Further, the sectors are obligated to come up with effective mechanisms for the dissemination of innovative findings to inform policies as well as appropriate follow up mechanisms.
According to O’Connor & and Sacco (2002), the increased roles and responsibilities has heightened the need for a holistic approach to the ‘welfare’ of a community by both the private and community sectors. Consequently, new approaches to social welfare delivery have emerged such as the research by James Garbarino (as cited in O’Connor & and Sacco (2002), which concerns the toxic environment and the effects it has on children and young people. This approach has led to the establishment of pilot projects such as ‘communities that care’, though on a small scale, in Australia. As well, positive youth development and international youth participation research findings have led to advanced policy and program development in Australia.
However, Lerner (2000, p. 159) notes that, though recent developments are encouraging and positive, the current situation in Australia is comprised of fragmented welfare service delivery and disconnected policy development. Lerner asserts that, in an increasingly competitive and complex world, human capital is one of the most important resources for a country. But according to the Australian Institute of health and welfare (as cited in Lerner, 2003, p. 159), Australia has recorded a constant decline of 23% in the population of young people aged between 12 and 24 years from 1971 to 1998. In addition, it has recently been established that many young people in Australia are reaching adulthood unprepared to effectively take the roles of a parent or responsible and productive citizens. The key point is that effective delivery of social welfare requires that successful, relevant and meaningful education and social and economic participation remain the most important priorities for all sectors for the present and future generations. In this regard, Lerner R. M., (2003) argues that the community and private sectors are not faring well in the mentioned areas, for vulnerable groups in Australian society, especially for the disadvantaged young people.
Further, Hitchcock et al (2003, 34) explain that, despite all the efforts to discharge their roles, the community and private sectors in Australia are losing ground and the systems that they design to alleviate poverty do not deliver the intended results. For example, approximately 800,000 children in Australia live in households with parents who are unemployed. This and other social problems have had a significant effect on family life, necessitating the need for private and community sectors to enhance effective programs to support and strengthen families to meet their children’s needs, (Hitchcock et al, 2003, 34). Generally, this indicates that there is still a need for improvement by these sectors through the formulation and implementation of effective policies at the organizational level, in the delivery of social welfare services.
In conclusion, as demonstrated in this essay, the private sector and the community sector have a great role to play in the delivery of social welfare in Australia. These sectors have demonstrated their role in providing a wide range of services to the Australian community such as the provision of education, health services, accommodation, religious services, legal advice, counseling services, childcare and distribute food and clothing. The recent reforms by the government of Australia have further increased the responsibilities of Australian private and community organizations’ participation in the delivery of social welfare services. As a result, these organizations have a greater social responsibility to account for their practices and to maintain corporate identity owing to increased consumer pressure. As a result organizations in the private and community sectors have recently adopted a holistic approach to the ‘welfare’ of the Australian community. However, as noted through the recent developments that are encouraging and positive, the current situation in Australia indicates that the two sectors need to discharge their roles in social welfare delivery more effectively. This may be achieved through the formulation and implementation of effective policies at the organizational level in the delivery of social welfare services.
Commonwealth Secretariat, (2009), Commonwealth Public Administration Reform 2004,
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Lerner R. M., (2003), handbook of applied developmental science: promoting positive child,
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