How many social
workers today feel at heart that their profession exists in name
only? For those who became social workers 20 or 30 years ago, the
essential concern was to help clients find the most acceptable
solutions to their problems. However, during the early 1980s, the
decentralised client-centred model of social work practice gave way
to a cash-led procedure-centred model.

Social workers are no
longer in professional caring relationships with clients. Instead
they are expected to “deliver a product to the customer”, forcing
the human creativity that should characterise all good social work
into the framework of a commodity transaction. There is a prevalent
and unhealthy obsession with documentation, computer systems, cash
and control by management hierarchy. The rationale for all this is
that it is about “best value” for the client, when in fact it has
nothing whatsoever to do with the client.

Human dilemmas,
problems and heartache are complex and demanding, and the shifting
social kaleidoscope demands that the social worker be able to
employ imagination and improvisation, thinking and making decisions
on their feet in relation to the needs of the client. Without this
flexibility the profession is bound to neglect core

Today we have a
situation where, according to NSPCC statistics, between one and two
children die every week in the UK as a result of abuse and neglect,
sometimes involving inappropriate social work intervention. The
Association of Directors of Social Services complains of not having
sufficiently trained staff available. Could it be that the ideology
that underpins social work practice is itself dysfunctional, taking
life when it should be protecting and nurturing it?

In my experience,
managers have frequently said that I should be expected to spend
only 20 per cent of my time with the client. The rest should be
procedure-bound cash-led social work, wrapping endless red tape
around me to make accountants feel good. I was told not to expect
to do anything creative in social work on the grounds that “those
days are over”.

It has always seemed
to me that the need for clients to find their personal humanity was
paramount, in a world that strips them of dignity and freedom at
many levels. The depersonalisation of current social work not only
increases this process, but also directly affects the social
worker. She or he is stripped of professional meaning.

Money has replaced
the social work ethic that people and their needs are ends in
themselves. Human life is not a product – it is a process. It is a
living organic reality, not a price tag on a tin. Social work must
honour this truth if it is to grow as an honourable profession in a
dishonourable society.

Mark Newns is
an agency social worker and is currently working on a PhD

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