A Closer Look at Social Services in Austin, Texas

Paul Owens-Troupe

Webster`s Dictionary defines a social service as: an activity designated to promote social well-being; specifically: organized philanthropic assistance (as of the disable or disadvantaged) ". A more concise meaning can be found in the Encyclopedia: Any of various professional activates or methods concerned with providing social services (such as investigatory and treatment services or material aid) to disadvantaged, distressed, or vulnerable persons or groups. The field originated in the charity organizations in Europe and the U.S. in the late 19th century.

The training of volunteer workers by these organizations led directly to the founding of the first schools of social work and indirectly to increased government responsibility for the welfare of the disadvantaged. Social service providers may serve the needs of children and families, the poor or homeless, immigrants, veterans, the mentally ill, and the handicapped, victims of rape or domestic violence, and person dependent on alcohol or drugs. " (Social Service)

It should not be news to anyone that social services have been and remain to be an important platform for the Democratic Party; as well as a major disinclination for the opposing Republican Party. It also shouldn`t be a news flash to anyone actively following the Texas political landscape that the Austin voting population remains more Democrat than Republican. This should be indicative of a wealth of social services and resources available to the disadvantaged population of the city.

Having a basic understanding about the actual meaning of social services and who they serve, it becomes clear that it is not just having the services available to those in need, but having them equally accessible to the population who needs them. This will serve as a main barrier between the abundance of social resources available to the citizens of the City of Austin. One could ask themselves and conclude " just how good is an available service or resource when it is not easily accessed by those who truly need it the most?

When it comes to accessing these valuable social services it can very easily become overwhelming due to the abundance of resources that seem to be available in Austin, and the ones which actually apply to the person seeking them out. Having spent several hours researching the topic and the resources available one could easily make such a claim. This does not take into consideration the level of competency involved by someone seeking such help. As politically incorrect as it may be to reference, it is plausible to assume that a majority of the disadvantaged seeking out this help would not have the proper resources in the first place, which could mean anything from not knowing where to start, who to ask, or easily giving up assuming there was nothing within their reach.

Not having any details about the person seeking these social service resources or their ranging ability to know where to start it should be assumed it is someone who is at least high school educated. This is not necessarily a preferred method considering the abundance of population this will exclude; however, this will highlight one major need for improvement: accessibility.

There are three basic options for anyone needing anything in life. They can pick up a phone and make a call (ask for help), show up to a location that offers assistance or any type of social case management (again, ask for help), or use the internet to attempt to get information on such resources (seeking out what is available and where to go in order to get help). The U.S. Government has 2-1-1 as an option for any American seeking information about resources within their current location (and is available 24 hours a day and 7 days a week); however, it does not seem that this is common knowledge. None the less, this has been and remains to be a quick and easy way for anyone seeking assistance to be able to call and connect with an automated system that allows the user to choose from a barrage of options. This service is known as The Information and Referral Network " and, once chosen, the caller is connected to a live representative. What makes this the quickest method is it also allows the caller to choose one of the state agencies providing various assistance programs (Food Stamps, Medicaid, etc.) as well as the multiple local non-profit organizations and ministries offering services for those in need.

Considering the person in need of such resources has a high school level of comprehension they have the basic understanding of the internet. They may start where most people start when they don`t know what they are looking for and/or do not have the knowledge of where or how to get it, by using Google. When applying the phrase Austin, TX Social Services " into Google the first page has over twelve search results that would potentially help the user access various social services in Austin, TX.

This is nowhere near the end result they are after for they still require a certain amount of patience, navigation, knowledge, and ability to not throw in the towel and consider it a lost cause. None the less, of the twelve plus results there are roughly seven that actually offer information on services available in the area if the user is able to visit the actual sites and navigate through them in a proper manner to acquire leads on resources that could be beneficial to them. Of the roughly seven, only two do not require any navigation and take the user directly to a page which lists the several social services available to them.
The first of the two links, http://library.austintexas.gov/information-guide/social-services, appears as the sixth result. On this page the user has a list of the following services provided and the organizations that provide them including a link to their specific page, or contact information: Social Services, Prepared Meals, Groceries, Shelter/Housing, Medical Care, Mental Health, Dental Care, Identification, Legal Aid/Advocacy, and Other Helpful Numbers (APD, Capitol Metro, Christian Service Center)

The second link http://www.eastaustinonline.com/social-svcs.htm, appearing as the eighth result, provides the user the following list of resources potentially available to them: East Austin Faith Based Support Organizations, East Austin Elderly Services, East Austin Children and Family Services, East Austin Health Services, East Austin Substance Abuse Services, East Austin Counseling Services, East Austin Creative Support, East Austin Job Services, East Austin Educational Services, East Austin Social Services, East Austin Non-Profit Organizations, Ministries, National Programs.

From the following two links it seems the bulk of all social service resources available specifically to the City of Austin citizens or inhabitants are listed. So much so that it is hard to think of any social services that are not available within the city, for the city. Should the user be able to navigate to the seven other results properly they would indefinitely have accessed and been able to view all the possible resources available to them. Some of the valuable resources that those in need can depend and rely on are State funded/based; therefore being a citizen of Austin does not have any connection towards eligibility. Those resources include, but at not limited to: Food Stamps (S.N.A.P.S.), Medicaid, MAP (Medical Assistance Program), WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) Services, Child Care Subsidies, and TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Family`s).

Positive feedback regarding the accessibility of social services available and the accessibility to those resources could be that one of the links on the first results page from the search provided a link to the United Way Austin website. This is positive because it clearly connects the efforts between the users using the internet to obtain leads on resources to the user who uses the most basic method of seeking resources by way of dialing information (2-1-1). An added benefit to the internet user is that a link is provided that will direct them to the same database that a representative who answers the "2-1-1` hotline would use to share the local resources available to the caller. Of course, it still remains that the internet user would have to be savvy enough to properly navigate from the Google results page to this one. (From the Google search results page they would click on the first link that would direct them to http://www.unitedwayaustin.org/ and from here they would choose the "Get Help` option located within the top banner and then select "2-1-1 Database` which directs them to a page where they input either their zip code or city, age, and their gender. The last question asked is not required as there is a N/A option).

Between the two methods researched it is evident that any social service or resource that one within the City of Austin requires is clearly available to them. What has not been proven is the ability of the person in need to access these resources. Thus, there is a clear abundance of help available for those in Austin who require it (of course eligibility may be another hurdle for some) and there does not seem to be any lack of resources available. It may be that there is such a lack that is present but would require that the services be compiled, categorized, and a deeper inspection taken into each one in order to gain insight on whether the services that are available now are in fact aiding those they are set up to help. What is clear, is the gap that exists between those who need and require the resources the most and being able to physically tap into the resource. This seems to be the only and most prevalent need for improvement for the City of Austin.

Sources Cited:

Social Service. " 2012. In Merriam-Webster.com.

Retrieved October 11, 2012, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/SocialService

By Paul Owens-Troupe
My name is Paul Owens-Troupe. I recently graduated with a bachelors in Information System Security; however, I have also recently discovered how many of my acquired talents and skills would aid my performance in this industry. I pride myself in the following traits (but not limited to): integrity, resiliency, compassion, logic, communication, analytical, and organization skills.

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