Research Focus Areas

The research focus areas of the Department are distinctly linked to the two disciplines. However, work across the disciplines is possible and encouraged.

Social Work:

  • Social and economic justice, equality and inclusion

Sustainable development requires an ecological lens in responding to poverty, structural inequalities, socio-economic disparities, global interdependencies and limited natural resources. Management of natural and human made disasters is embedded in integrated social, economic and environmental development. Impact should be evident in increased equality and resilience of vulnerable groups, including children, women, older persons, sexual minorities and displaced groups (e.g. (im)migrants, asylum seekers and refugees). Furthermore, the focus area encompasses policy analyses and development to addresses inequalities through people participation.

  • Addiction

Across the lifespan, some people struggle with, for example, substance abuse and internet addiction, therefore the extent and impact of these addictions urges research within the context of their bio-psychosocial well-being. In the context of addiction, procedures, experiences and challenges with regards to prevention, early intervention, aftercare and reintegration services remain neglected in social work service and necessitate research to make contributions to the knowledge base and developmental social work practice. A harm reduction approach to addiction is largely neglected in South Africa; hence, appropriate policy and treatment directives are lacking and need further development.

  • Health and well-being

Socio-economic challenges, burden of disease and poor mental health thwart communities and individuals from their quality of life and well-being. Within the diverse South African and African context, emphasis ought to be placed on promoting the biopsychosocial approach to health care, including comprehensive awareness, prevention, treatment, care and support, taking into consideration the diverse socio-economic circumstances, as well as the cultural, religious, spiritual and workplace contexts of vulnerable groups.

  • Child, youth and family well-being

In the context of family and community life, children and the youth are two of the most vulnerable groups that are impacted severely by socio-economic conditions in South Africa. Community-based experiences influence and confirm the need for research on vulnerability among children, young people and families. Child and family wellbeing is at risk because of the lack of knowledge of the developmental tasks of vulnerable children and youth. Diversity and changes in contemporary family structure and life form an integral part in understanding children, youth and families. With this in mind, research foci include: child and youth development; working with the child client; capacity building for children, youth, couples, caregivers, guardians and families; children in need of care and protection; and forms of alternative care and access to care.

  • Quest for a just workforce

Discrimination and violence in the workplace (along the lines of gender, race, sexuality, socio-economic status, employee profile and career development opportunities) often impact on employees’ behaviour, resulting in the development of psychosocial challenges. Within the quest for a just workforce, research on the wellness and well-being of workers should include prevention and treatment of workplace challenges in an attempt to ensure a safe work environment and improve the productivity of employees. Furthermore, monitoring and evaluating is needed to determine return on investment, especially insofar as employee wellness programmes contribute to financially fit companies and organisations.


  • Female offenders

Although female offenders represent a small proportion of offenders globally, little is known about this offender population in South African contexts. This focus area aims to understand the causes (aetiology/pathways), punishment (custodial and non-custodial) and rehabilitation (reintegration, intervention and support) of female offenders and female offending behaviour. Specific emphasis is placed on resilience and wellbeing in female offender populations. The focus area extends beyond gathering data from female offenders to include systems/structural matters and policy/legislation.

  • Child and youth offenders

While children and youth commit various types of crime, they often present vulnerability and risk which influence their behaviour. Understanding the profiles of child and youth offenders underpins intervention before perpetuating patterns of and influences on offending continue into adulthood. It is equally important to focus on the resilience and well-being of child and youth offenders to ensure that rehabilitated individuals are successfully reintegrated into society. Research will include the aetiology of youth offending, localised theoretical frameworks and legal responses, as well as the addressing and curbing of child and youth misbehaviour.

  • Corrections

The committing of crime and subsequent incarceration has an influence on the well-being and cohesion of society, as families are disrupted and patterns of incarceration can become intergenerational. In addition, formerly incarcerated offenders are marginalised in society and struggle to access economic opportunities due to their criminal record and the accompanying perceptions of society. Research in corrections will include offenders’ aetiology, the psychosocial influence of imprisonment, sentencing options, human rights of offenders, victim-offender dialogues and other restorative justice initiatives, assessment and profiling of offenders, community corrections, rehabilitation and reintegration.

  • Management of crime

South Africa has a notoriously high crime rate. Many proactive and reactive initiatives are in place to manage crime in the country. The management of crime as a research focus will include, among others, the policing of crime, the prevention of crime and the role of safety and security institutions, as well as risk assessment in the crime control and management milieu.

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