This assignment will discuss the case study given whilst firstly looking at the issues of power as well as the risk discourse and how this can be dominant within social work practice. Further to this a task centred approach will be explained and how it could be used when approaching this case study. Finally the strengths perspective will be explored and how this could effect change, and bring about social justice principles.
Thompson (2000) discusses that power can be a complex issue that operates on different levels. He further discusses that many service users who come into contact with social services are generally in a relatively low position of power, and that this could be due to, for example; social divisions such as, class, race, ethnicity, gender, or religion.
When looking at issues of power, it could be said that Ms. Evans who defines herself as Asian is being oppressed by many power differentials that would need to be considered. For example; Ms. Evans is currently living in naval married quarters and feels she has not been accepted into the community. It could be argued that she is living in a predominantly male domineered, white environment. Thompson (2000:56) highlights patriarchal ideology and how male dominance ‘serves to maintain existing power relations between men and women’, he also highlights how we should ‘resist the pressure to make people conform to ‘white malestream’ norms’ (Thompson 2000:141).
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Healey (2005) discusses anti-oppressive practice and how this looks at the personal, cultural and structural objects that can shape the problems that service user’s experience. Healey (2005) further discusses that through anti-oppressive practice social workers aim to promote service user empowerment by encouraging them to talk about and share their feelings of powerlessness, to help them understand how cultural and structural injustices can shape their experiences of oppression. Therefore when working with Ms. Evans and her family I would need to incorporate anti-oppressive practice in order to empower, and enable her to share with me her feelings and experiences of powerlessness in order to gain a better understanding of the families situation.
However Thompson (2000) highlights, social work intervention involves the exercise of power, which if used negatively can reinforce the disadvantages that service users experience. Used positively however power can help to enhance the working relationship, the outcomes, and empower the service user, as Healey (2000:202) writes ‘postructuralists see power as an ever-present and productive feature of social relations’, and Foucault cited by Healey (2000) highlights the need for us to recognise the productivity of power, and argues that by focussing on power as only being oppressive ignores the positive dimensions of power.
Ms. Evans has been referred to social services via the Health Visitor; this could be making her feel disempowered and nervous about the forth coming intervention of social services. Therefore when working with Ms. Evans and her family I would have to recognise the power imbalances between us, (Thompson 2000). I would need to be sensitive to the issues of power and imbalances by being clear with Ms. Evans on my role and purpose, explaining professional boundaries and responsibilities (Trevithick 2005). I would also need to consider my use of language and how as Dalrymple (1995) cited by Healey (2000:184) explains ‘the way in which language can reflect power differentials and have an impact on the people with whom we are working’.
As well as recognising power issues and imbalances, as the social worker l would also need to undertake a risk assessment. As Thompson (2000) highlights, to assess the degree and nature of any risk to which Ms. Evans and her family could be exposed to. Assessing exposure to risks or a person, who is vulnerable to it is central to assessment within social work practice (Davies 2005). Stated in the Codes of Practice, ‘as a social care worker, you must respect the rights of service users while seeking to ensure that their behaviour does not harm themselves or other people’ (GSCC 2007:4). This includes ‘following risk assessment policies and procedures to assess whether the behaviour of service users presents a risk of harm to themselves or others’ (GSCC 2007: 4.2).
Therefore when working with Ms. Evans and her family I would need to be aware of my organisational and statutory duties as there are substantial policies, guidance, and frameworks to inform my practice on risk assessment. When working with children and families as Brayne (2005) highlights, I would need to be aware of the law, which under the Children Act 1989 states; my primary responsibility would be when working with Ms. Evans and her family to that of the child, or children.
Ms. Evans has stated that on occasions she and her family have experienced verbal abuse, which would need to be investigated further to decide on any risks this may pose to the family. However she has been described by the Health Visitor as suffering from post natal depression, and finds it difficult to care for her children, aged seven, five, and a ten week old baby who has spinal bifida. Therefore it could be said that my primary statutory concern would be, to what extent is her post natal depression effecting the care and welfare of her children, and does this pose any risks that need to be identified.
Risk assessment and the management of risk have become dominant in all areas of social work. Kemshall (1997:123) cited by Davies (1997:123) highlights that within social work risk assessment and risk management have become key issues and are often central in the decisions, ‘to allocate resources, to intervene in the lives and choices of others or to limit the liberties of activities of clients’. Risk assessment has become a dominant discourse within social work ‘because social workers are employed within a risk society, which searches for ways to identify and manage risk effectively’. (Higham 2005:182)
However as stated in the codes of practice, social workers should also ‘recognise that service users have the right to take risks, and help them to identify and manage potential and actual risks to themselves and others’ (GSCC 2007: 4.1). Higham (2006:182) discusses how ‘service user’s strengths that are likely to diminish the predicted risks’ should be assessed in keeping with the social work value of empowerment. Pritchard (1996) cited by Davies (1997:124) discusses how service users should not be denied the opportunities to take risks or exercise choice, and states that, ‘risk-taking is an important feature of all our lives’ (Davies 1997:124). However, as Thompson (2000) explains, the balance between care and control within social work can be difficult to maintain.
By approaching this case with a task centred approach would as Healey (2005) explains, mean focussing on enabling Ms. Evans to make small and meaningful changes in her life, that she has recognised, acknowledged and wanted to work on. Coulshed (1998) highlights that within this approach the service user is the main change agent, helping the worker to assess what the priorities for change ought to be. She further explains that because the worker is as accountable as the service user in carrying out agreed tasks this lessens the sense of powerlessness that the service user maybe feeling.
A task centred approach works on a specific set of procedures whereby the service user is helped to carry out problem-alleviating tasks (Coulshed 1998). Healey (2005) explains that it consists of the pre-intervention stage, followed by four sequential but overlapping steps. Therefore firstly I would need to understand and establish the source of referral (the Health Visitor) and negotiate with them any expectations and views. However as Healey (2005) states, by understanding the views of the referring agency does not mean that this has to be the focus of work, as I would need to work with Ms. Evans on defining the target problems.
Mutual clarity between Ms. Evans and me would need to be addressed, discussing any limits or boundaries, explaining confidentiality, my role, as well as any legal or other obligations. Working in collaboration with Ms. Evans I would seek to explore and prioritise Ms. Evans views of her problems, as the service user involvement in identifying the target problems are ‘critical to concentrating their efforts on change’ (Healey 2005:119). Epstein and Brown (2002) cited by Healey (2005) suggest a maximum of three target problems, as it is not necessary to address all problems identified. Success in a few can have a ‘knock-on effect for other problems in a service user’s life that may enable them to live with these problems or to deal with them’ (Healey 2005:113).
However as Healey (2005) writes, although within a task centred approach the service user’s definitions of their problems should prevail, in circumstances where the worker is duty bound to insist on considering certain problems, or a judgement has been made of a potential risk that the service user may pose to themselves or others, than these issues should be clearly raised.
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An explicit agreement (contract) would need to be mutually clarified. This would include times, location of meetings, and detailed information on the goals of intervention, whereby the service user should be responsible for deciding the order in which problems should be addressed (Healey 2005). It should also include any goals the social worker has on behalf of their agency or statutory duties. For example when working with Ms. Evans, goals for intervention might include her health status to be investigated in relation to her post natal depression.
As well as this a statement of tasks would be listed to address target problems and to develop the service user’s problem-solving skills (Healey 2005). This is the key intention of task centred practice, ‘hence we must resist any temptation to do ‘for’, rather than do ‘with’ the service user’ (Healey 2005:122). An example of one task could be; Ms. Evans to gain more information on spinal bifida and then forward this to her partner, as she feels that he has not accepted their daughter’s condition, and this could be a fear of the unknown.
In supporting Ms. Evans in her task performance I would encourage, and help build on her strengths maybe through rehearsing set tasks with her in the form of role play (Healey 2005). This would enable for any strategies necessary to be put into place to help Ms. Evans overcome any obstacles that she may feel could hinder the completion of a certain task.
Task centred practice is a systematic process, therefore throughout my work with Ms. Evans I would need to regularly review performed tasks in order to acknowledge any gain made, as well as address any tasks that have not been performed. This would give me the opportunity to address any issues with Ms. Evans and to explore ways if deemed necessary to revise our contract.
Finally integral to the task centred structure is the need for a well planned termination. Healey (2005:124) writes that a ‘clear and looming deadline is vital for concentrating worker and service user efforts on change’. Within the termination meeting I would review with Ms, Evans the overall progress of our work, and how in the future she might maintain any progress that has been made (Healey 2005).
Healey (2005) explains that a task centred framework provides a ‘shell’ in which other theoretical perspectives can be incorporated. Incorporating a strengths perspective would, like task centred practice focus on, building a ‘service user’s capacity to help themselves’ and ‘to promote a mutual learning partnership between workers and service user’s’, (Healey 2005:158) keeping within the social work values of empowerment, respect and service user self-determination. According to Healey (2005) the strengths perspective concentrates on enabling service users and communities to work towards their future hopes and dreams, rather than looking at past or present problems.
Saleeby (1997:4) cited by Healey (2005:152) states that the strengths perspective formula is straightforward, where workers are required to ‘mobilise’ service users strengths in order to enable them to achieve their goals and objectives, which would lead to the service user having ‘a better quality of life on their terms’ (Healey 2005:152). Some of the key assumptions of the strengths perspective are, ‘all people have strengths, capacities and resources’, and people generally demonstrate resilience, rather than pathology when facing adverse life events. (Healey 2005:157).
Healey (2005) discusses the practice principles and how the social worker should adopt a positive and optimistic attitude towards service users, working in partnership with them so solutions to problems are developed collaboratively. Healey (2005:162) further states that the formation of a good working partnership can increase ‘the resources available to solve the problem at hand’. Therefore when working with Ms. Evans I would focus on listening to her story, identifying her capacities, strengths, and resourcefulness which could contribute to positive changes. I would clarify any strengths with her as Healey (2005:162) explains, service users ‘can grow when others particularly ‘helpers’ actively affirm and support their capacity to do so’.
My role as the social worker would be to facilitate Ms. Evans capacity to acknowledge, and use existing strengths and resources which would enable her to develop new ones. These strengths could be for example; the skills she has developed from parenting, most of which due to her partner being in the Navy she may have done independently. Ms. Evans defines herself as Asian and that Islam is important to her, therefore, another strength could be that of adaptability, and having the inner strength to explore new experiences, as she may have moved from an Asian community to be with her partner in the naval married quarters.
According to Saleeby (1996) cited by Healey (2005:164) ‘belonging to a community is the first step towards empowerment’. Therefore by working towards social justice principles I would explore with Ms. Evans what formal and informal help was available to her within the community. For example, a mother and toddler group, which would enable her to become part of the community that she feels she has not been accepted into. Healey (2005:164) explains ‘community support can build and draw on the capacities of service users to help themselves and to help others’.
I would also discuss with her the help she is already receiving in relation to her baby and her diagnosis of spinal bifida, which could mean the family are entitled to both financial and practical help. This could include a family support carer to give some respite, which would allow Ms. Evans some time to pursue her own interests, such as her religion. Further to this I would need to recognise any strengths and assets within Ms. Evans social networks, such as people she may feel can be supportive, maybe discussing with her possible personal support from family and friends (Healey 2005).
In conclusion this assignment has discussed the issues of power and how social workers need to be sensitive to and recognise power imbalances. .Following this, risk discourse has been explained, as well as a task centred approach to the case study. Finally the strengths perspective was incorporated which focuses on the capacities and potentialities of the service user.
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