Open Forum

Having autonomy over their workload gives social workers a sense of ownership over their time, writes Paul Lloyd

Autonomy allows practitioners to be creative about how they do their job and gives them the freedom to add their personal perspectives. It also has benefits for the employer.Stand up for Social Care 125x125

 In fact, as a discipline, social work relies on a degree of autonomy in practice so that practitioners interact with service users in a sensitive and humanised way which draws on the professional’s knowledge and experience. These autonomous elements serve to buttress formal organisational policies and procedures. But, paradoxically, autonomy, which is a major factor contributing to social work job satisfaction, tends to lie in uncomfortable opposition to organisational command and control.

So, despite the benefits to clients, the degree of autonomy awarded to social workers has been curtailed because of the risks that it poses to organisations’ procedures and authority. Practitioners are monitored and managed to such an extent that it has led to a degree of deprofessionalisation.

For the worker, having autonomy equips them to fight against the dehumanising mass production of care, and helps them to defend what is unique and personal about an individual’s situation. Social work is about the relationship between client and worker; the use of the self provides the worker with control over the production process. Social workers can create and project progressive values and can express commitment to their clients as something that is distinct from the function of the organisation. But, by its nature, autonomy is open to challenge, as the social worker has to learn to function in uncertain and ambiguous boundaries.  

 Being autonomous is precious to many practitioners and the loss of it can be profound. Despite forces trying to restrict practitioners’ freedom to make decisions, social work practice must continue to be founded on autonomy, in the interests of workers and clients.

Paul Lloyd is a social worker in Cumbria

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