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The Interplay Of Structural Social Work Essay

“Social work practice seeks to promote human well-being and to redress human suffering and injustice…..Such practice maintains a particular concern for those who are most excluded from social, economic or cultural processes and structures….Consequently, social work practice is a political activity and tensions between rights to care and control and self-determination are very much a professional concern”(O’Connor et al, 2006, p.1)

The Brown family case study will be referred to throughout the essay in an attempt to explore and discuss the lived experiences of service users. With such an array of difficulties faced by the family, in order to be able to provide analysis and critique, many of these difficulties and their correlation within social work practice will not be explored. The essay will begin with examining the political background from Margaret Thatcher to the current Coalition government and emphasize their continued functionalist ideologies. It will also discuss sociological constructions of the family, poverty, power, and managerialism.

The prolific cases of the deaths of Victoria Climbié and Baby P led to such media scrutiny and a downward turn in public perception of social workers. As a result, this has led to changes in social work practice with children and families.

Due to the current austerity measures, social workers gatekeeping of resources and having to meet stringent thresholds often result in limitations being put on families and creating what ……………..describes as a revolving door syndrome. The Brown case study refers to there being intermittent involvement from social services over several years, which supports the suggestion of a revolving door syndrome. Although the case study is not explicit, I think it would be safe to assume that issues faced by the Brown family may have suggested that they meet the section 47 threshold set out in the Children Act which would have triggered social work involvement with the family. However, if the involvement has been intermittent, this would suggest that once significant risk had diminished the involvement with the family was stopped which suggest risk led practice was employed rather than a needs led (Axford, 2010).

Munro’s recent review of child protection (2011) included 15 recommendations. There is not scope to discuss each recommendation but she urges the government to accept that there will inevitably be an element of uncertainty, to allow professionals to have a greater freedom to use their professional judgement and expertise, and to reduce bureaucracy. The response from government is to accept 9 out of the 15 recommendations (DfE, 2011)

Poverty

The case study highlights that the Brown family are dependent on welfare benefits and that they find it difficult to manage their finances. Therefore, they are essentially living in poverty. Poverty can be described as a complex occurrence that can be caused by a range of issues which can result in inadequate resources. It impacts on childhoods, life chances and imposes costs on society

“Child poverty costs the UK at least £25 billion a year, (equivalent to 2% of GDP) including £17 billion that could accrue to the Exchequer if child poverty were eradicated. Public spending to deal with the fallout of child poverty is about £12 billion a year, about 60% of which goes on personal social services, school education and police and criminal justice”. (Hirsch, 2008: Joseph Rowntree Foundation,p.5)

Cross national studies have suggested that child poverty is not a natural occurrence. Moreover it is a political occurrence, the product of decisions and actions made by the government and society. Attention concerning a dependency culture has filtered through different political parties and have been utilised with renewed enthusiasm since the formation of the coalition government in 2010. These assertions of dependency create propaganda about the attitudes of the workless and they give the wrong impression of the previous efforts of the Labour government to tackle child poverty who focus was to direct increased welfare payments towards those people who are working in low paid jobs. The coalition is currently reducing benefit payments to families in work. As a result of these cuts, many children will evidently be thrust back into child poverty (………).

A possible contention is that the coalition government argue that they seek to treat the symptoms of poverty, rather than the causes. However, their analyses of the causes are at best partial or incomplete. While in-work poverty is acknowledged, it is often buried beneath the rhetoric of welfare dependency (ESRC, 2011). The suggestion that previous methods to tackle child poverty have inevitably robbed people of their own responsibility and therefore led them to become dependent on the welfare state that simply hands out cash is absurd (Minujin & Nandy, 2012).

Work is frequently referred to as the favoured route out of poverty. Although the government have introduced numerous policies to ‘make work pay’ there are countless families that still do not earn enough money to attempt to lift their family out of poverty (Barnardos, 2009). More than half of all children currently living in poverty have a parent in paid work (DWP, 2009). The Brown family have both parents out of work, with Anne having never been in paid work and Craig struggling to find regular employment since leaving the Army 8 years ago. Both parents have literacy difficulties and so require a complex package of support to enable them to improve their life chances of gaining employment that pays above the minimum wage in order for their family to no longer be living in poverty.

According to the code of practice (HCPC, 2012) social workers are required to……………………………………………………………………

As mentioned previously, successive Neo Liberal governments uphold a functionalist ideology that frequently locates poverty in terms of personal responsibility and deficits.

Managerialism

As mentioned previously, services have changes over the past 20 years and this can be explained by the emergence of a managerial approach to how services are being delivered. Intrinsically, managerialism is a basic set of ideas that transpired from the New Right criticisms of welfare and is founded on the notion that public services need to be managed in the same way as profit-making organisations (Harris & Unwin, 2009). In the UK there has been a rise in managerialism which can often lead to weakening the role and autonomy of social work practice. In the pursuit of becoming accountable and impartial, managers are attempting to control or prescribe practice in increasing detail which inexorably leads to reducing the opportunity for practitioners to implement individual reasoning. As a result, this leads to policies that represent rules that can often be described as inept and insensitive for the service user. Therefore, the tussle between the managerial and the professional control in social work practice is often a contested issue (Munro, 2008). As managerialism takes more control, then a shift towards defensive practice develops which results in procedures that are insensitive to the needs of families. In essence, the professional role of a social worker can be progressively reduced to a bureaucrat with no possibility for expertise or personalised responses

In addition, a managerial approach causes conflict, as it emphasises the need for targets that will assess performance and the delivery of services (Brotherton et al, 20120). Furthermore, there is a correlation with an apparent distrust or autonomy of professionals. This has led to an upsurge in scrutiny by a variety of inspection bodies such as Ofsted and this has been extremely significant in the area of child protection following the high-profile cases of the deaths of Victoria Climbié and Peter Connolly.

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