The Role of Ethical Social Work in the Business of Care There is a relationship between the role of ethical social worker practices and political, economic and social reforms. Economic and social changes in human services has impacted the practices of professional social work. The discourse of managerialism and privatisation has changed social work locally and internationally. Social workers operate in market economies and management practice where the restriction of funding and regulations of operation challenges the social worker providing support, care and professional that are ethically sound.
The provisions of managed and funded services create a business of care. In Australia the social work Code of Ethics provides the guidelines of ethical decision making, in professional social work. Chenoweth & McAuliffe (2015) states that ethics is a system of beliefs that provides the philosophies and insights of what is morally right or wrong. The Australian social work Code of Ethics stipulates three core values which are “respect for persons, social justice and professional integrity” (The Australian Association of Social Work, 2010, p. 12) and these values are the key responsibilities for ethical decision making in social work practice.
Traditionally professional social work aim was in providing assistance and insight into a person’s needs through ethical decision making. Parton & O’Byrne, (2000) states that traditionally social work practices focused on developing relationships with a diverse group of people, established resources for the individual, liaising and negotiating with other agencies for assistance and support, and provided meaning to the individual’s world.
The principles of traditional social work are established in a client centred approach, where the social worker makes themselves available to the individual y listening to them, is not judgemental or directive and focused on building trust and using confidentiality (Parton & O’Byrne, 2000). Traditional practices in decision making would be based on the values of the Code of Ethics. Changes in social policy has directly impacted the role of social work. Social policy has political and economic foundations that regulates social relationship and ‘normative’ practice, where the welfare state is integrated into economic allocation or redistribution of economic resources established on ‘normative’ societal values and interests (Jamrozik, 2001).
Political and economic reform influences social policy and societal values and interest, and in turn how social work is delivered. Changes in economic policy has had a direct impact on social policy and in how social workers provide services. Stillwell (1996) indicates that “since the mid-1970’s … in many post-industrial countries” the discourse of neo-classical economics or neo-liberalism economics’, “has become the dominant framework in economic and public policy decision-making” (as cited in Healy, 2014, p. 49).
In Australia the neo-liberal programs of 1980s and 1990s introduced the micro-economic policy discourse of economic rationalism (Chenoweth & McAuliffe, 2015). Economic reforms directly impact social policy and changes the framework for social work practices. Managerialism discourse is a key economic policy and human service reform that has changed how social workers make decisions. Chenoweth & McAuliffe (2015) states that managerialism is a neo-liberal policy reform introduced in 1980s and 1990s under the discourse that welfare states are unaffordable.
Managerialism philosophies include systems of rules, procedures and guidelines, including layered management structures and managed organisational practices, administered by a process of goal setting measurements and funding accountabilities that is overseen by the government (Payne, 2014). Where strategies are “designed to focus on efficiency and cost-effectiveness at the expense of equity and justice” (Marston, McDonald & Bryson, 2014, as cited in Chenoweth & McAuliffe, 2015, p. 37).
Managerialism attempt to try to make social work practices constant, rational and predictable, it restricts the role of social work. Another economic change is when governments moved the responsibility of human service from the state to non-government agencies. Jamrozik (2001) states that from 1980s onwards the discourse of neo-classic economist theories or economic rationalism resulted in the reduction in public sector and the strengthening of the private sector. This discourse increased from 1990 to 1998 due to neo-liberal thinking of economic reforms of privatisation (Jamrozik, 2001).
Privatisation of public domain has economic and social implications because programs are contracted out to privately run and profit making human services agencies, where the government retains control over the private businesses while reducing government intervention and accountability (Jamrozik, 2001). This unrestricted competitive economic market focuses on cost saving within limited economic resources (Chenoweth & McAuliffe, 2015). Privatisation has moved human services to a business model of support and provides social workers with many challenges in ethical decision making, in its market economy.
Changes in political, economic and social policy affects the status quo and challenges the social worker with ethical decisions. Post-industrial government introduced the principle of social service markets on the bases that “markets can deliver better and cheaper services than government” (J. Healy, 1998, as cited in K. Healy, 2014, p. 50). Healy (2014) states neo-classical economic discourse believes the mechanisms forces of a free market keeps costs down and eliminates the misuse of budgeted resources.
However, social service ‘quasi-markets’ are not traditional commercial markets, they are different because the individual receiving the services is not the agency purchasing the service, this is usually the business managing the allocation of funds (Healy, 2014). Social service markets do not provide opportunity for ethical practice as most decisions are based on funded responses from resources available. A recent Australian discourse of social change is the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), this will change how social workers operate in the disability sector.
Senior Officials Working Group for the Disability Reform Council (2015) states that in April 2012, the Council of Australian Governments agreed on the NDIS, Integrated Market, Sector and Workforce Strategy, where the principle aim is to: “maximise the benefits of a marketbased approach to disability support services, including consideration of a costing structure that fosters competition and choice” (p,7). Presented at the Commonwealth of Australian Parliamentary Debates and contested by the Queensland government, the Queensland NDIS Bilateral Agreement was finally signed off by the Queensland government on 17 March 2016.
Commonwealth of Australia Parliamentary Debates, 2016). The disability insurance scheme is a market driven reform of disability services where non-government agencies work in a business of care. Many contemporary human services agencies are run by nongovernment human services and operate as businesses. The privatisation of government agencies has promoted the free market economy where non-governmental agencies compete and tender for public funded services or programs in order to provide profit making human services (Chenoweth & McAuliffe, 2015).
Social workers have lost the principal of what social work has to offer, practice has become more concerned about assessing, managing, planning, monitoring and accounting for the process of intervention (Parton & O’Byrne). Ethical decision making is contentious in a market economy when social responses are based on funding availability and complexity of client and the endeavour to have individual needs met. Managerialism has also had a big impact on contemporary social work practice due the rules and regulations of management.
The professional role is to help people change to societal values and perceptions helping them to manage the complexities of their world (Payne, 2014). In managerialism social worker skills are devalued because intervention is focussed on a sequence of technical tasks, set procedures for assessment and limited opportunity for intervention in a professional capacity (Chenoweth & McAuliffe, 2015). Managerialism reduces intervention from professional concerns and interpersonal relationship to a fragmented routine role of cost-managed funding response based in the concept of efficiency and effectiveness of reporting accountability (Payne, 2014).
Contemporary social work intervention is reduced to managing the process and does not effectively address the service user’s issues. Social work profession is developing on an international level and being challenged by the global market. Dominelli (2010) states that globalisation has had a significant impact on the profession, which can be attributed to social reforms of managerialism and privatisation.
Globalised economies is the integration of different countries economic markets in to one economic system, where capitalist social relations impacts on “daily routines in personal live, public life in general and professional practices” (Dominelli, 2015, p. 601). On a global scale managerialism practices influences the deskilling of social workers by enforcing management practice of rules, regulations and guidelines, and accountability for efficiency and effectiveness in welfare services’ cost effectiveness (Dominelli, 20015).
Also privatisation in a global economy has influences the welfare funding situation in social work practices, as neoliberal’s globalisation searches for profit-making opportunities in a global economy by “turning goods and people into commodities” (Dominelli, 20015, p. 604). Globalisation impact the social work profession in several ways it challenges ethical practices in a globalised economy, where human services practices operate as businesses. Social work practice need to be seen as ethically valid and functionally accountable in terms of reasonable practice procedure and intervention.
Recognition of the influential role of social, economic and political systems in shaping individual and community experiences and opportunities and the relationships between service provider and users is essential (Leonard, 1995). In contemporary practice social workers make the social system work smoothly in the interest of capitalist and social structures (Payne 328). The foundations of ethical values are integral to social work practices these uphold ethical responsibility of decision making and to act appropriately in difficult and complex situations.
The social worker responsibility is to work within the values of the Code of Ethics. Changes in political, economic and social policy greatly impact on how a social worker can practice. In contemporary practices professionals work within the confines of free market economy and management guidelines. However, there is no true space for ethical practice in a technical and organised structure and the confines of financial concerns.