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TO WHAT EXTEND SHOULD SOCIAL WORK BE LED BY THE WISHES OF SERVICE USERS?
Social work involves the improvement of the human condition and positively changing how the society responds to unending problems. The profession is meant to enhance the quality of life and to ensure each individual realizes full potential in life. In pursuit of these goals social workers work with communities, groups, families, individuals more so the sick and poor. For a long period of time social workers have been providing services with less involvement of the users. They were considered receivers of the services whereas the workers were providers of services. This was seen to give little choice and autonomy to the users. On the other hand the care givers were trained to offer services to the users irrespective of how they felt about the service. Slowly, in a number of western societies there is a growing trend to change the approach. The users are given more say in the manner they want to be treated. This is understandable considering that they are suffers and know better where the shoe pinches. Their opinions have for a long period of time been overlooked by the authorities (Banks, 2006). To address this issue is both a challenge and an opportunity for delivery of better services.
Involvement of Service Users
There have been attempts in the recent past to have involvement of service users in health and care services. The consumer of social service is perceived just like a consumer of any other type of commercial service. This means that he or she is obliged to have a choice, quality service, and value for money and even an avenue to complain (Thompson, 2009). There is much emphasis on the necessity to have knowledge about the exact needs of the users based on research. It is not only advocating for participation or involvement of the users but a greater empowerment. In this the power and control of the professionals is surrendered to the users. There are given a chance to control and run the services. This form of service delivery is rear and may not be realized soon. Nevertheless attempts are being made to let the user gain more information, knowledge and skills regarding the power being bestowed on him.
Such a venture can prove challenging to the users and those trying to emancipate them. Most of the users are ignorant, disabled, unfit physically and in majority cases with a low self esteem. To involve them is delivery of service will require much assurance, patience and friendliness from the workers (Munday, 2007). It is for this reason that training has been initiated for both the users and social workers. This training enables them to better understand one another and work in collaboration.
Merits of Involvement of the Users
There are a number of reasons why the involvement of users in providing service is vital. The most important factor is to have services reflect on the preferences and needs of the users. Similarly the users also have to be able to participate in decision making regarding the delivery of the service. The latter reason is important in the sense that the users gain more control over their lives. There are also made to be flexible hence able to respond to various needs at appropriate time. Besides, the people will be able to unite as a group, identify with one another and speak with one voice. In this way they guarantee to give a new perspective and approach to tackle social issues. The involvement of the users is also essential in a sense as their input will be used in reports and other documents. As a result most of the materials meant for this purpose become understandable to other service users, members of the public and providers of services.
Though there are those who see the involvement of users as a challenge to the workers, it can actually lighten their work. Once social workers and users trust each other and work together it becomes easy to deliver the services. It is easy to satisfy someone who responds and gives directions on how he or she wants to be served. The social workers will therefore not be required to rely so much on book reading but field experiences. The more they interact with users the more they get to know them and their problems.
In most cases resources are scarce thus making social work a challenge. To some extend the involvement of users can help in proper resource allocation and avoid wastage (Byers, 2005). There are instances where social workers provide what is not needed by users. Some of the resources are expensive yet do not fully satisfy the needs of the users. It can be more prudent if the users are involved in the planning such that only useful items are provided. In countries such as Norway personal budgets have been helpful in dealing with individual needs (Munday, 2007). This approach whereby some cash is provided to individuals has been very useful. As much as some critics will term the approach as expensive; still it is a step towards empowering the users.
In addition individual needs and expectations vary with time and context. The training of the social workers needs to be updated often in order to address current circumstances. For this to be realized there must be intensive research carried out on the service users. Such a venture can prove expensive and time consuming to the social workers. Alternatively the workers have the option of researching on the users as they provide services. The knowledge and ideas gotten from users can be useful in future practice.
Barriers to Involvement
Despite these apparent positives there are obstacles to the full implementation of the plan. The most crucial is the significant minority users whose view may not be represented by the chosen few members attending meetings. It is also possible for the user representatives in the committee meetings not to effectively stand for wishes of the entire group of service users. It is therefore a challenge to have greater involvement and participation of the people. The majority of whom it may not be easy to contact.
Another impediment is the professionals themselves. Traditionally power belonged to service providers and still most of them are reluctant to relinquish the power. There is less willingness to share power with users such that most of them are already intimidated to attend the meetings. This is especially so with regard to decision making. The professionals still want to be in control in allocation of resources. The assumption is that allowing users in decision making would prove costly to the professionals. Such a venture is also time consuming considering tight schedule of the professionals. On the other hand the teaching staff has to be made aware of the emerging trend in service delivery. As opposed to traditional practices, the current approach emphasizes on sharing of power.
In majority cases service users perceive themselves being secondary to the wishes and dictates of the professionals. This has acted as an impediment to their involvement. The users appear to be lacking in knowledge, skills and understanding (Munday, 2007). This makes them susceptible to exploitation. In some cases their physical condition does not seem to favor a meaningful participation. Their personal opinions and needs do not tally those of the professionals yet such concerns are rarely addressed by the authorities. For this barrier to be surmounted there must be training allotted to both service users and caregivers.
Apart from the people involved in social work institutions also act as a major obstacle. The established practices and structures of the organizations allow for little reforms. There is almost no room to hold discussion for power sharing. The long established tradition in institutions makes power issue a tricky affair. The administrations are also bureaucratic thus shun involvement of the users. In some cases it is the lack of clear goals by the administration. This becomes a barrier to initiate any reforms in favor of involvement. However, constant calls for awareness may help address the issue.
Time and resources also prove as obstacles to the achievement of the goals. There must be enough resources to meet the needs of the users (Trevithick, 2005). This may not be readily available hence calls for support to allow the participation of various stakeholders. Some of these seminars are costly as participants have to be well catered for. The expenses include reimbursements, transports costs and also paying the services users. Similarly, institutions pose some difficulties that need to be overcome. All the same there need to be commitment on the part of the users. Time and energy have to be sacrificed of which majority users can hardly afford.
Furthermore in most countries there is no legal provision to advocate for the rights of the users. The political willingness is also lacking (Adams, Dominelli and Payne, 2009). This makes it is difficult to push any agenda concerning users of the service. In some cases the legislation may exist but are inadequate to address the issue at hand. It therefore becomes necessary for other avenues to be explored to ensure that the concerns of users are addressed.
Finally there seem to be a language barrier between some of the users and social workers. In some cases the two speak different languages hence cannot communicate easily and effectively. Naturally this will require the services of an interpreter who may not be readily available. In addition the language of the professionals may be too technical making meaningful communication impossible. It is for this reason that professionals have to cut on the use of jargon and try to simplify their language. Sometimes it is only language that creates distance between users and social workers.
Impact of User Participation
There is much evidence to show the widespread popularity of user participation. However, the impact of participation is yet to be monitored. As much as there is willingness to allow for participation of users still institutions are rigid. The traditional systems, structures and practices are maintained. It makes it hard for any meaningful reforms to be carried out.
In addition users seem to be skeptical about current programs. According to perspectives from a number of users their views continued to be ignored. This is basically because professionals in the field are unwilling to share power. The users therefore find it difficult to find a way of having there needs prioritized. It becomes vital for them to meet together and speak in one voice.
It is due to these reasons that learning institutions are advised to take note such that they help in bringing solutions to the problem (Davies, 2008). Without a new way of looking at the problem and changing the system then the problem is likely to persist. The barriers that see to the marginalization and disregard of views of users can only be addressed by changing traditional systems.
Expectations of the Service Users
Service users expect to be heard and their problems listened to. This is in addition to the need to be valued as human beings. They crave for humane treatment, warmth, honestly, and respect. The lifestyle and cultures of the users are also to be respected. It is unfortunate that most of the social workers disregard some of these issues. There is a tendency to imagine those that are poor or aged are not entitled to the best services.
Apart from this users are also in need of understanding and to work in collaboration with social workers. There differences as individuals have to be acknowledged. Above all the need for good communication is emphasized. The communication should be clear and straight forward. All manner of ambiguity should be shunned. Moreover, professionals should try as much as possible to avoid use of jargon.
Social work education is a useful tool to enable workers not to imagine the condition of the users. A social worker has to constantly monitor the condition of the users and respond accordingly. Students on career training have to be made aware from the onset to be respectful and open to participation with users. The perspectives of users need to be kept under consideration. It will also ensure there is partnership between service users and students on a daily basis.
Service users are also important in providing knowledge and understanding. Their views and opinions need to be taken with seriousness and equal value just like those of professionals. Their experiences are essential to enable a successful involvement practice. In many instances these experiences vary from those of professionals. This is not to be seen as anything out of the ordinary. In fact it can be used as a good background to better the teaching of the subject.
There is still need for programs in social work to allow for user involvement and partnership with social workers (Wilson, Ruch, Lymbery, and Cooper 2008). The impediments outlined earlier should be done away with. The service users have identified a number of issues which have to be tackled in order for there to be an effective partnership. For instance there is need to commence a direct partnership with users. There knowledge and experience should be incorporated in the services being provided. This means a continued sustenance of the partnership between the users of the service and those providing the service.
The importance of participation of more people cannot be emphasized. This must include people with varied background and experience. The system should be in favor of inclusiveness such that there is a wide approach to challenges. Once users are able to articulate their problems and issues facing them without feeling intimidated then it would be a step forward. For this to be realized it would take more than just participation but direct effort from the concerned parties.
Each and every individual is unique. It is therefore faulty for social workers to give the same type of service to a number of users. The truth is that even for individuals, circumstances and needs change with time. Those attending to users must therefore be sensitive to individual complaints at particular times. Workers have to look at the history of patients and ensure there was no misdiagnosis. Concern for the past of the patients boosts confidence and friendship. Similarly, services can only be implemented when there is trust between professionals and the users of services. It also means the same staff should be maintained for a long as possible. An occasional change of staff gives a discontinued service to the users.
Perspective of the Workers
The social workers too have needs and also suffer from a number of work related illnesses. The most common ones are anxiety, stress and depression. Just as the users of the service, workers need support. This may be psychological, financial or spiritual. The majority however do not disclose their personal problems since they see it as a weakness on their part (Davies, 2008). They are meant to respond to the needs of others hence most of them forget the fact that they too have got needs. There are those that put the needs of others before there own. Whereas the mainstreams come to believe distress and concerns are inevitable and cannot be done away with.
It is therefore important that workers are made to understand not only the situation of the sick but their personal situations as well. On a daily basis social workers have to deal with a lot of issues most of which depend on their decisions. They not only have individuals to deal with but families, groups and communities. Furthermore the resources are scarce such that workers have to find a way to share equally. Their work is punctuated with lots of uncertainties; contradictions, risks and tension (Davis, 2008). Everyday workers face a number of challenges. It is not always smooth as they rely on their own judgment to solve some problems. This becomes even more complicated in times of crisis. The majority are denied time to spend with family and even relax with friends. All the same the workers are expected to deliver the best service to users. They need to focus and listen to whatever complaints the users put across (Levin, E., 2004).
It is beyond doubt that users of social services need to be involved in social work. For a long period of time they have been sidelined and their views suppressed by the authorities. In some way this involvement will help to address some of issues that users feel are being neglected. Service users need to develop a personal relationship and trust with social workers. They have to be listened to, respected and empowered. It is only when they are free with workers, confine to one another that the work will run smoothly. On the other hand it is not going to be an easy task for social workers. The expectations of users are many and varied. In order to meet all of them workers have to be skillful and experienced. Furthermore authorities have to ensure scarcity of resources and bureaucracy is dealt with. This will give ample time to the workers. All in all the two parties are to work in conjunction with one another, respect and value each other. It is not necessarily that all the wishes of service users be met but at least respect and understanding should prevail.
The fact that social work has to be done in collaboration there is need for training for both service users and workers. Once the two parties participate in training it becomes a lot easier to work together. It will not be a question of responding to the wishes of users. Some of the groups and or individuals need a lot of guidance and counseling. There are those that can hardly understand themselves and need a lot of help. Again training may not go well with most of the users. Majority will not see the usefulness of training. Others may as well ignore. Nevertheless institutions that train social workers should address the changing roles of users in social work. The graduates should be skillful and flexible enough to respond to the challenging environment.
- Adams, R., Dominelli, L & Payne, M., 2009. Social Work: Themes, Issues and Critical Debates.3rd ed. Palgrave Macmillan.
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- Byers, C., 2005. Towards a Meaningful involvement of People Using Service and Carers in Social Work education: developing Strategies for Good practice. School of Social Community and Health Studies. Retrieved on November 13, 2009 from http://www.bemidjistate.edu/academics/publications/social_work_journal/issue11/articles/byers.htm
- Davies, M., (ed) 2008. The Blackwell companion to social work. Blackwell Publishers Ltd
- Davis, A., 2008. What Service Users Expect From Social Work. International Conference on Social Work Education. Tblisi State University, Georgia July 1-2 2008. Retrieved on 18 November 2009 from http://www.ceimh.bham.ac.uk/documents/Ann_Georgia_presentation.pdf
- Levin, E., 2004. Involving Service Users and Carers In Social Work Education. Social Care Institute for Excellence. Retrieved on November 18, 2009 from http://www.scie.org.uk/publications/guides/guide04/files/guide04.pdf
- Munday, B., 2007. Report on User Involvement in Personal Social services. Retrieved on 13 November 13, 2009 from http://www.coe.int/t/dg3/socialpolicies/socialrights/source/ID4758-Userinvolvementinpersonalsocialservices.pdf
- Thompson, N., 2009. Understanding Social Work: Preparing for practice. Palgrave Macmillan
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- Wilson, K., Ruch G., Lymbery M., Cooper A. 2008. Social Work: An Introduction to Contemporary Practice. Longman.
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