In the following I will be discussing the quotation “Social Work is an ethical and political activity made necessary by the consequences of social and economic disadvantage and inequalities”. I will be critically evaluating the statement by expressing my view of Social work role and what Social Services are there to do. I will be addressing the role of politics within Social Work and the effects it may have on service provision. I will also be highlighting the some of the ethical dilemmas and constraints social work services face. By discussing these issues I will be able to evaluate the statement and highlight the way in which service users may be discriminated against within Social Work.
Social Work in the 21st Century has changed and improved throughout the years. Within Social Work today great emphasis is put upon the service user and working in partnership. Thompson, 2005 highlights that partnership is a highly skilled activity, being able to work in partnership also demonstrates so many other skills necessary within social work. This approach is aimed at empowering the service user as so many of the individuals that we work with are discriminated against within society. However this has not always been the main focus as service provision was very different at the beginning of the welfare state when the Poor Law was implemented. The focus at that time was labeling people as deserving and undeserving which then oppressed those labeled undeserving as this reduced the opportunities available to them as they were often sent to the workhouse with poor conditions. The “underclass” where described by the middle class as “Dangerous” and ” dark” Mooney,1998 as they thought the increase in urbanisation would cause overcrowding leading to disease which would spread onto the middle class. Therefore along with the new poor law philanthropic woman were introduced to contain and reduce disease. It has been highlighted by Forsythe, 1995 that philanthropic agencies did not wish to reduce deprivation for everyone but only for those who were seen as worthy. The wealthy middle class woman viewed themselves as superior to the working class therefore discriminating against them. The main focus of the support was to limit and contain the spread of disease from those that were poor onto the middle classes. This again discriminated against those who were experiencing great levels of poverty and deprivation. In the years that followed the Beveridge Report in 1942, legislation was implement by the Government to tackle the five giants that were highlighted within the report. By concentrating on these issues the Government aimed to tackle the difficulties which society was facing at that time. Unfortunately the same five giants continue to be problematic today’s society although these difficulties are now approached with a different manner.
Today’s approach has been influenced by many reports highlighting various ways in which service provision could improve including social work. Today social work takes on so many different meaning and cannot be explained with a single definition. Social Works mission is to support and empower individuals to reach their full potential by addressing the difficulties they may be experiencing which then prevents dysfunction cited by IFSW, 1982. We do this by applying our social work skills and values and relating the knowledge and theory to our practice. By doing this we are then able to communicate and engage with the services user and gain knowledge of their environment which then enables the social worker to work in Partnership with the service user to address the difficulties that have been identified. This is done by applying the Social Work Process of Assessment cited by Coulshed & Orme, 1996. Many of the service users that require the support of a social worker often are experiencing discrimination or oppression at some level within society due to social and economical constraints. It is the social worker’s role to work in a non discriminatory and anti oppressive manner to empower and encourage the service user to address their issues and minimize the level of disadvantage they they may be experiencing
Social Work knowledge enables us to gain a greater understanding of the service users by applying a holistic view. One way this can be applied within the social work process is with the use of systems theory. When carrying out the assessment process with a service user it is important to gain a holistic view of the individual which will then enable an accurate assessment of the individuals needs and level of risk. By apply theory to practice you are able to adopt a holistic approach effectively. Systems within an individual’s life are symbols for the different relationships which they are connected to. As all systems are interlinked they will then all impact on the individual therefore all systems need to be considered for the service user. Parker & Bradley, 2007 highlight that this approach demonstrates that social workers commitment to work in an anti oppressive manner as this approach will enable the discrimination to be addressed and challenged. This is because systems take into consideration and social structures which may affect the service user.
When carry out an assessment there are many skills that need to be implemented in order for the assessment to be accurate. One that I have already highlighted was the need for a partnership between the service user and social worker. However before this can form there is basic skills such as communication and engagement. As this takes place at the beginning of the assessment it is important that this is effective. By using communication this does not just mean to speak or inform but can also mean non verbal communication such as eye contact, facial expression or gesturing. It important to use effective non verbal communication as Thompson, 2002, highlights, non verbal communication can enable us to communicate our emotions and illustrate our reaction to what we have been told. When communicating, it is important to use the communication appropriately and in a non discriminatory or oppressive manner an example of this may include the use of jargon. Many people within Social Work can at times forget that they are using jargon with service users as they are so comfortable with it this. However this can present a barrier between the social worker and service user as the service user may not understand what they are being told. This can then lead to oppression as the social worker is discriminating against the service user by using inappropriate language and therefore the service user is being oppressed as s/he is not receive the support required cited in Thompson, 2003. This can then lead to relationship breakdown as the service user may not wish to full engage as a result.
Lastly values are also crucial when applying the skills required to address discrimination and disadvantage when working with service users. The values that we apply within our practice then enable us to work in a non discriminatory and oppressive manner. One of the main social work values includes approaching with a non judgmental attitude. It is important to remember that so many of the service users that we support are already being disadvantaged or discriminated against within society this could be a form of sexism, racism or classicism as so many service users are experiencing poverty and disadvantage which is often why social services are implemented. By applying a non judgmental attitude you are then able to engage and form a positive relationship which will then allow for a more holistic assessment to be carried out in order to identify the services user’s needs and level of risk. By doing this we are able to identify ways in which the service user’s needs can be met effectively and therefore minimse the level or oppression which they experience as a result of discrimination within society for example stigmatization.
Within Social Work practicing in an anti discriminatory and anti oppressive manner is highlighted as being crucial from the beginning of the social work training and has always been a focus throughout the work carried out by students. Forsythe, 1995 stated all students had to demonstrate a level of competence in anti discriminatory practice when completing the Social Work Diploma. This is an area and a requirement that is emphasised in today’s training with an emphasis on applying anti discriminatory practice. With recent literature such as Thompson, 2003 discrimination can be explained in a clear manner. Thompson’s P.C.S. Model helps to prevent discrimination and oppression of the client and aids the Social Worker to work in an anti oppressive and anti discriminatory way. It explains how discrimination and oppression affects individual on three different levels these being Personal, Culturally and Structurally. This allows the Social Worker to become aware of these levels in working in and anti Discriminatory way. “Each of these levels is important in its own right, but so too are the interactions between them” Thompson,2003, pg,13 Each level is linked therefore by understanding how discrimination effects individuals at a personal level you can then relate it in the wider context of Cultural and Structural. By understanding the model you can promote good anti discriminatory practice and work with the client in an empowering manner.
The Scottish Government has highlighted that they are now providing the largest budget for social work than ever before with an increase to all services as highlighted by Scottish Executive, 2001. This budget has been used for services provision, training for staff etc this money should enable better service provision and reduce the inequality that many of the service users are currently experiencing within society as a result of a disability or mental health. The funding and support can then be offered to empower and enable the service user to progress with their lifes. However this money is not always evident within the social work services as many service users are being denied service provision. It has been highlighted that in the 21st century families are not having as many children therefore the birth rate has fallen while the elderly appear to be living for longer and requiring more support as cited by Hill, 1996. So much of the time social worker are having to negotiate with managers or services to enable their service user to gain a service as highlighted by Trevithick, 2005. When thinking back to the quotation social work can be viewed as a political activity with regards to budgeting. So much of the time resources are limited when service provision is higher than average e.g. high levels of unemployment. With the recession which is currently taking place more people are attempting to access services due to poverty, mental health and increased crime rates, all of these negatives will increase with the condition that society now faces. With the same budget in place this will then impact on the services available. This then causes disadvantage within social work services due to high numbers and low service provision. Social work aims to tackle discrimination but due to political restriction can often disadvantage and discriminate their service users.
Nevertheless there have been positive influences by the government to improve social work provision to and promote an anti discriminatory practice. One of which includes the introduction of the care commission which was implemented with the Regulation of care (Scotland) act 2001. This was set up to regulate the care provision of social services including elderly care homes. By regulating the care the service user is then ensured that they will be provided with a consistent level of care which can minimise people being discriminated against due to a disability for example as their care will be regulated as cited by Care Commission, 2009
Another way in which the government has impacted on service provision within social work includes the introduction of the SSSC which was also introduced also under the Regulations of care (Scotland) act 2001. Their aim is to increase the protection of vulnerable people by regulating the training and registration of those working in social services and highlight the codes of practice. By doing this they are able to limit the discrimination and disadvantage that the service users may encounter as all people working in social services are registered. They highlight that they encourage equality by delivering a high level of competence in their work which can then enable and empower the service user to take up the opportunities available to them which will then prevent them from feeling oppressed within society.
Within Social work ethical dilemmas are evident throughout practice. At time this can be due to challenging discrimination appropriately or being in conflict with your personal and professional values. As highlighted within the quote social work should be approached in an ethical manner by demonstrating the social work values. However at times social workers may experience ethical dilemmas in the work that they are carrying out in order to do the best for the service user. At times due to low levels of service provision which was highlighted earlier this can then impact on the service user and whether their needs are being meet in an effective way. If needs are assessed and identified then it is the role of the social worker to encourage the service user to meet their needs effectively. However if the service provision is not available this can then impact on the service user. Banks, 1995 highlights that the welfare state is benefiting and embracing those in need as it will increase the budget received from the government, although they are also seeking to limit and control poverty. However while the welfare state may be benefiting from those in “need” social workers cannot help but feel guilty when those needs cannot be met due to lack of resources. Social workers are accountable and answerable to their actions. At time it is not the social workers fault as Trevithick, 2005 advises that often social worker negotiate to the best of their ability for service provision but at times the resources and not available. This is similar to what was carried out regarding the deserving and undeserving as shows that at times services users do need to be prioritised due to lack of resources. This may then mean that they are oppressed by this as their needs cannot effectively be met.
Another ethical dilemma which I have became aware of is Care vs. Control as it demonstrate the level of power that you as the social worker has although by informing the service user of your duty as a social worker, to pass relevant information on, you are also limiting the control as the service user may then withdraw or hold back in what is being said. This can have a great impact upon the relationship that has been built between the social worker and the service user. Thompson, 2005 advised that the basis of a positive working relationship is trust and respect. With this in mind it is possible that you may need to pass on information to the police etc regarding your service user. This may be difficult as the service user may then become disempowered and let down by social services. Lishman, 2007 states social workers are there to empower and encourage the service user to address their needs effectively. However if information was required to be passed on from what a service user had disclosed this would then demonstrate the power imbalance within your relationship. However this should be fully explained at the beginning of the working relationship and an appropriate connection should be made. This service user and social worker relationship is determined by confidentiality, accountability as the social worker has the responsibility as a professional personal to uphold the two were appropriate as cited by Hugman & Smith, 1995.
When working within social work there can be constraints that impact upon how we are able to fulfill our role to encourage and empower and this may then lead to further discrimination or disadvantage out with our control. One of which includes the legislation such as the Children’s Scotland Act 1995. The legislation highlights that the welfare of the child is paramount cited in Anderson et al, 2008. Therefore within child protection any referral that is made will be looked into which enables an assessment of the child to take place. This legislation enables better and more efficient child protection procedures; although the legislation states that a minimalist approach should be taken with the child. This may mean that the child continues to stay in the home as there may not be clear evidence of abuse or neglect. This can impact greatly upon the child and can cause the child to feel let down by the system and oppressed. This is due to the constraint of legislation and is put in place for the best interest of the child however this can lead to the oppression amongst young people who do not want to speak out and therefore their needs may go undetected.
Another constraint that has been considered is in relation to service provision. I have previously discussed that at times service provision can be limited and what is available to that service user may be restricted. As a result the criteria for the service may then increase to reduce the level of service users who require the service. If this happens their need will not be met effectively and this will not be addressed. However the role of a social worker is to identify needs and risk and ways in which these could be met. Therefore this may then raise questions regarding the accuracy of the assessment. Social workers may alter the truth to ensure that their service user will be provided with the appropriate support. The focus for assessments should be needs led and the services should fit around the service user. However this is not always the case as Parker & Bradley, 2007 state that at times due to limited service provision the services users have been placed wherever has been available.
To conclude I agree with the quotation as I feel that at times social workers are providing services for those who are socially and economically disadvantaged within society for various reasons. If these people were not experiencing inequality there may then be no role for social work. It is important to remember that social work is informed by the knowledge skills and values which then enable us to practice and approach with a non discriminatory attitude this encourages and empowers the services user to reduce the inequalities which they be facing. However at times due to the constraints within social work e.g. resources services user continues to experience inequality.
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