Social work, as a profession, originated in the 19th century in England. The initial challenge was to identify the decisive role of social work: Advocacy or reaching out with social needs of individuals. This essay attempts to focus on the contemporary role and functions of the social work in its aspects of diversity, complexity and variety of setting especially in the 21st century. It critically evaluates the way social welfare system is being delivered, the ideology behind the change of policies, and how the changes have influenced social welfare in the UK.
The main objective is to discuss the issues and challenges relating to the role of the social worker and to value the significance of the development in social work. Function of Social work in the UK and the Role of a Social Worker An attempt to explore the role and function of the social worker should address one fundamental question – ‘What is social work? ’ Apart from some established ideas of a social work, it is also significant to ask, ‘What is it that represents social work?
What skills and expertise are expected of social workers? ’, ‘What training and education is appropriate/ adequate for social workers? , and ‘What are the roles of the social worker that might set them apart from other professions? ’ Cree V. , finds it almost impossible to find a simple definition of social work with which everyone is likely to agree. (Cree, 2003, p. 3). Beresford and Croft capture the fluidity of the function and scope of social work. They say, “All the signs are that the roles and tasks of social work have not been and are still not well known to the public or to service users. Studies of public and service user understandings from the 1980s and 2000s both provide evidence to this effect”.
As they continue to explicate the reason for this flexibility, they note disengagement between producers of definitions and the users of the same. “The fact that service users may not know what the nature and scope of social work practice resulted in one current text recommending that social workers needed to be much clearer to service users about what they do” (Beresford, Adshead and Croft, 2007) According to Thompson (2000) ‘Social work is what social workers do. This need – based activity is presumed to enhance the scope of the definition of social work.
“The aim of social work, [therefore], is improvement in social life, increasing cooperation among human being and increasing solidarity in society. However the largely convincing and widely used description of the concept is that social work is “a profession which promotes social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being. Despite differences in approaches, a crucial objective of social work from its outlook is about assisting, supporting and enabling the community.
For the very purpose one constancy in the history of social work has been its concern for those who suffer from the negative effects of social inequalities. For many this apprehension with inequality and poverty has become growingly important since it seen to be the rising gap in contemporary societies among the wealthy and the deprived. In a context of contested concepts, Askeland and Payne (Askeland and Payne, 2001) raise critical question of ‘agency’ to “validate” the characterization of social work.
These definitions could emerge from the perspectives of politicians, social workers, policy makers and practitioners. When these groups become agencies of definitions, they are “fuelled by vested interests and media representation” Of crucial significance for this discussion is ‘what represent the prime function of social work’. According to Clark “Social work is committed to rights and justice” (Clark, 2002). Rights and justice here are to be taken as the motif of social work towards life- enhancing activities.
Social workers’ concern is for the individual and helping them achieve change, a certain quality of life and protection from harm or harming others ( ADSW) (Association of Directors of Social Work), 2004). In other words, “The essence of social work is maintenance: maintaining a stable, though not a static society, and maintaining the rights of and opportunities for those who in an unplanned uncontrolled community would go to the wall” (Davies, 1981,) Here, we can draw a clue from Askeland and Payne’s ‘agency’. The vested interests in the definition might not have taken the concerns of the service users adequately.
For many there has never been a more important time social work to establish itself as a credible profession working to ensure that the interests of less advantaged sections of the community are promoted and protected”. (Jordan and Parkinson, 2001; Jones et al. , 2004). Often social workers have been practicing their role in diversity, complexity and variety of settings as counsellor or caseworker, as advocate, as partner, as assessor of risk and of need, as care manager. They are closely linked with the values and principles seen to underpin social work in general.
The Social workers often plays a role as care manager. They are involved in finding resources for clients or service users, however the social worker’s involvement has very little direct contact with regards to the clients whose care they are organising. The social worker can as well be seen as a partner of and working for disadvantaged or disempowered individuals or groups. Again, there is a close relationship between the social worker and those she/he is supporting. In symbol to both the social worker as advocate and social worker as supporter, the empowerment of the service user or group is vital and paramount.
The social workers are being given a key role in the assessment of need and risk over an individual service user and also number of client groups. The concern has been that while assessment is a significant task for social workers it may well be at the cost of other tasks essential for social workers such as fulfilling the casework role and working with individuals, families and groups. Likewise, “the assessment role may also be seen to be associated with a policing or surveillance role” (Garrett, 2004). A misunderstanding in the relationship between the client and the social worker may well appear.
The possible confusion and ambiguity in role has also been explored in reference to the mental health role carried out by social workers” (Myers, 1999). The function of social work, mainly from a fundamental viewpoint, can also be seen as traditional force in spreading a social and economic structure which accounts for the inequalities and disadvantage experienced by various communities and individuals. Therefore the social worker can be considered as an agent of social control. In a wider sense this can be refer to the role the social worker who can involve in maintaining the social system in broad-spectrum.
If social work did not exist then there would be a breakdown in the social system. ADSW (Association of Directors of Social Work, 2004). One of the challenges for social workers could well be conflict between these different ideal types because they make very different assumptions about the function of social work on what should be expected, because social workers often asked to fulfil conflicting roles at any one time. “Too often today social workers are often doing little more than supervising the deterioration of people’s lives” (Jones et al. , 2004).
The social worker can also be viewed as an advocate who act on behalf of the poor and socially excluded. The advocacy role can also be practiced for individuals or groups such as families or communities and in some areas. As a social worker the advocacy role can also be connected with community work which can give assist or support individuals or groups by giving voice or assisting them to give their own voice to their wishes, needs and aspirations. The advocacy role provides rights to the concept of a secure affiliation between service user and social worker.
The above discussion indicate the range of potentially conflicting roles which social workers are seen to fulfil as a social worker as advocate, counsellor, caseworker, partner, risk assessor, care manager and agent of social control at large. Significance of anti-discriminatory/anti-oppressive practice Scholars have identified at least two ways of understanding Anti-oppressive practices within the scope of social work: Maintenance approach: This approach helps people to organise their life- style in a way to meet the challenges pragmatically.
Here, the service providers play the role of informants regarding the available options and resources. This model develops a unilinear approach in professional relationships where service providers are presumed to be equipped with options that are compatible with the needs of the users. This might impersonalize the relationship between the service provider and the user as the users do not test out the options before them. Therapeutic approach: This method helps users to look out for solutions and ways out in the context of relationships. The options are weighed to see how best they are personally helpful as well as relationally congenial.
Here, the clients are listened to carefully before being suggested with the services. These resources are largely derived from the already Anti-Oppressive Practice is embedded in the living experiences of oppressed people and many studies and research which explore these. Anti oppressive and Anti-discriminative practice in social work addresses social divisions and structural inequalities in the work that is done with service users. Anti- oppressive and Anti-discriminative Practice seek to deliver suitable and sensitive services by react and respond to people’s needs regardless of their social status, race, and gender.
Anti – oppressive and Anti discriminative Practice represent a person centred beliefs, an egalitarian value formation, apprehensive to reducing the harmful effects of structural disparity upon people’s lives. In the words of Thompson (1993), anti-discriminatory practice is viewed as a ‘good practice’. He maintains that such a view on the practice ‘seeks to reduce, undermine and eliminate discrimination and oppression. ‘ He thus argues that the favour of power rests with the Social worker in this case, and are in turn influential in implementing discrimination and oppression to their best ability.
Thompson’s view is strongly supported by many of his contemporaries. Carniol (2000) argues in favour of Thompson’s claim when he states that the social worker can ‘link personal matters and public issue’. With the fact that social workers are theoretically informed and empowering, their practice finds it necessary to have a viewpoint that is flexible without losing focus. The use of power dynamics by social workers transcends description of practice and moves to creative and innovative ways of working with an emphasis on reflexivity, social difference, being powerful or powerless and an act of challenging reforms for the benefit of people.