3.8 Perspectives on practice: building relationships
Listen to the following audio clips, ‘Panel discussion on critical practice’, Part 2: Professional power
In these clips, the panel critically discusses the importance of service user views and the nature of professional social workers' power.
Transcript: Panel discussion 2a
Transcript: Panel discussion 2b
Transcript: Panel discussion 2c
The questions arising from arguments about ‘service user participation’ are important and complex. In principle, few people, if any, argue against involving people in decisions that affect their lives. In practice, however, implementation of this principle is often difficult. There are many reasons why this may be so and the panel discussion touches upon some of the implications for professional knowledge, values and the structure of service provision. A key summary point can be highlighted from the discussion about the complexities of social work power in practice:
So power operates in all kinds of strange liquid ways in social work, if you like, and it's never quite clear at any one point in time how it's operating. And I think the skilled social worker is one who can operate at a number of levels. And so when they are with GPs and teachers, over whom they have no authority, when they are with multi-agencies working to find a solution over whom they have no line management, and the social worker has got to be a really skilled organisational operator there, crossing all these boundaries, dealing with all these other particular identities and people and egos and interests. And I think the skilled social worker is one who can actually hear and manage all these different discourses and find solutions within them. And that's quite a modern identity, quite a modern task …
At a number of points in this discussion, the speakers talk about the importance of negotiating with people and the extent to which social workers retain considerable discretionary power.