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are human services?

“It would be helpful to provide an
official or generally accepted definition, but there is no such thing.”
(Burger & Youkeles, 2008, p. 8) Defining human services is not simple. The term has evolved over many years
and has no specific meaning on which everyone would agree. In general, though, services are things some people do to
help other people. It is no more complicated than that. If you do something to
help me, you are providing a service. The question is then, What is a human service?

Answering this question is challenging. We start with a simple reality. Each of us has needs, problems, and
vulnerabilities beyond our individual capacity to cope.
Putting the same
point in different terms, each of us may, from time to time, go it alone; but
we cannot survive and succeed over time by ourselves. “Sometimes the
weight of social and personal problems makes it difficult to solve all of one’s
problems without the input of trusted helpers.” (PoEcological Human Services Managementter &
Valentine, 2007, p. 3) We have to have the support and assistance of other
people. Some of us need more support and assistance than others and we each
need different levels of support and assistance at various times in our lives.
Nonetheless, none of us can survive and succeed without some help along the
way. This help may come in the form of direct assistance, targeted supports,
individual opportunities, group or community resources, and a myriad of other
forms. Whatever form it takes, the help is necessary for survival and success.

The array of supports and
services we all draw on is complex and extensive. It ranges from the Fire
Department to the local bank, from safe roads to hospitals, from drinkable
water to an adequate food supply. If we restrict the view to day-to-day
services and supports enabling individuals to grow and succeed, the array is
still far-reaching. It includes supports for physical health and well-being,
for emotional support and nurturing, for social experience and opportunity, for
moral guidance and enrichment, for educational growth and intellectual
development. We need each other to assure the viability of our current lives,
the viability of our futures.

For most of us, most of the
time, our individual needs are met, our problems are resolved, our
vulnerabilities are managed. This happens with the help and support of family,
friends, neighbors, and our communities. If we need services beyond friends and
family, we simply make arrangements to assure the services we require are
available when we need them, using personal or other resources readily
available to us. These services range from spiritual guidance to legal counsel,
from relationship advice to educational services, from health care to
recreational opportunities. Most people successfully arrange to have their
needs met, their problems resolved, their vulnerabilities managed.

For some of us, some of the
time, life is a much less doable proposition. We do not have or cannot access
adequate family, friend, neighbor, and community supports and resources to meet
our needs. “The strength of the primary supports of family and
neighborhood is essential if individuals are to cope with a complex society.
They are the basic linkages of one person to another.” (Burger &
Youkeles, 2008, p. 7) We cannot tap into these special opportunities others use
to help resolve their individual problems. We do not have adequate help with
managing the threats and potential harm to which we are vulnerable. We are, for
whatever reason, left to go it alone.

This brings us to one of the
fundamental questions born from our humanity. If I take care of me and mine,
why can’t everyone else?
This in turn leads to a second question. Even
if there are valid reasons why they can’t take care of themselves and their
families, why should I use any of my time, energy, and personal resources to do
it for them?

Many years ago, my grandmother
told me the good Lord put some of us here to take care of the rest of us. She
smiled and added the good news for all of us is we get to take turns being
taken care of and being the one who takes care. In her gentle way, she added I
should always pay attention to which turn I am taking and then make it as easy
as possible for the person taking the other turn. This is why we need human
services. Some of us need to take care of the rest of us, so we provide human
services to assure everyone has an opportunity to take turns. It is our way of
being sure grandmother’s wisdom is not lost.

In addition to our humanity and
moral values, there are more self-serving reasons for assuring the availability
of human services. They are in the interest of community stability, security,
and long-term success. This is true whether the community of interest is a unit
of government, a church, or other organizational entity. To the extent any
member of the community is struggling to meet his (or her) needs, to resolve
his problems, to avoid the jeopardy of unmanaged vulnerabilities, the community
itself is struggling, is less than it has the potential to be. “The social
goods produced through the human services sector strengthen individuals, families,
organizations, and communities through the services provided in health and
mental health care, education, social welfare, criminal justice, and many other
fields of practice. The public good that is generated by a society then is
inextricably connected to the human services delivery system.” (Manning,
2003, p. 3-4)

We see human services are a special instance of services more generally. Some of us are
unable to adequately and independently cope with the myriad of life issues
interfering with and jeopardizing our well being. We do not have the personal
resources and opportunities others have available to them to cope with day to
day stresses and challenges. Quite simply, human
services are our best effort to assure others have access to the resources and
opportunities they need to cope with the needs, problems, and vulnerabilities
in their lives when they are unable to access those resources and opportunities
on their own. (For interesting historical perspectives on help, people being
helped, and helpers, see
& Kanwischer, 2004, p. 25-45 and
Woodside & McClam, 2009, p. 27-59.)

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