Contemporary Professional Social Work Challenges

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Particular challenges of contemporary professional social work practice currently are austerity and ethical decision-making that affect social workers. In this essay, I will discuss what impact these will have upon me as a student social worker and ways to help me overcome these challenges.

A challenge faced by social workers presently is austerity due to the demanding economic conditions and the measures put in place to reduce public spending. There is a substantial amount of decrease in money due to the result of financial cuts, which means less money to respond to service users needs (Lymbery, 2014). This is a cause for concern for me, as a future social worker as I would potentially like to work within the children and families sector, which has faced large cuts since 2010 (Kelly, et al., 2018). The decrease in spending on non-statutory services for children and families is increasing the demand and costs within the future (Kelly, et al., 2018). Organisations are visibly under pressure as the demand increases, child protection cuts and the reduction of a number of services, such as children and youth centers (Kelly et al., 2018). This indicates that vulnerable children are slipping through the net (Rogowski, 2011).

As a result, the need for strict rationing of resources and funds implicates the development of social work practice, as there will be limited resources to assist (Lymbery, 2014). Relationship-based work has been renovated to concentrate on the distribution of resources and services when carrying out assessments, with an increase in monitoring (Rogowski, 2011). Within the social work profession managers and supervisors have become the directing role due to knowledge, understanding, and skills within in their role and the amount of change experienced within practice and organisations (Rogowski, 2011). Social workers not only help those adversely affected by austerity but also they are personally threatened by austerity measures too as social workers are left to struggle in an under-resourced social service environment and the only thing they can do is to empathise with service users (Yeung et al., 2010).

I am aware of the overwhelming consequences many service users have faced due to austerity and as a future social worker, it is demoralising that the UK government is continuing to reduce the input of social workers by reducing funds, resources, and support (BASW, 2018). Consequently, social workers capacity to provide adaptable support to service users in need is becoming severely constrained (Rogowski, 2011), which is an aspect of social work I will be challenged by. When previously on placement with a fostering charity I saw referrals of children needing a range of support however they were put on hold due to the funding cuts and enormous workloads and this was an aspect that challenged me as I felt powerless in my role. Morris (2017) recognises the impact the lack of resources has on social workers due to the stress related to being unable to meet service users needs, which provides an unfulfilling role.

As a future social worker, I understand that there are aspects of the role I will not be able to complete due to austerity and will have to consider the more realistic approaches to providing support for services users based on what is actually accessible. A key aspect that will help me work with this challenge is carrying out assessments thoroughly and provide an accurate summary of service users needs for certain support or services to help decide whether or not a service user gets access to resources (Beckett and Maynard, 2005).

Another challenge that is faced in social work practice is decision-making, which is a key aspect of social work (Banks, 2011). Within in social work to gain satisfaction and the best results for service users by encouraging human welfare, social justice and preventing human suffering, is to consider all options when making decisions (O’Sullivan, 1999). When making decisions challenges that could arise for a social worker is the uncertainty of the final outcomes, inadequate information, time restrictions, under pressure from other sources and the possibility of making the wrong decision and resulting in the social worker getting the feeling of dissatisfaction and the blame (O’Sullivan, 1999).

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Anti-oppressive practice tries to prevent oppression, ranging from challenging a social workers practice, aspects of policies or within society, which may cause harm to services users and with anti-oppressive practice decision making provides opportunities for social workers to work with an empowering approach (Dalrymple and Burke, 1995; Payne, 1997). Values and ethics focus on an individual's morals when making considerable choices in what is right and this draws attention to a social workers reasoning for decision making and whether it is a good or bad decision (Banks, 2011). Within the social work profession making judgements and decisions should be in accordance with their professional knowledge, experience and the values of social work (Banks, 2011) and social workers have the right, power and duty to promote what they regard as good and ethical practice and to challenge and resist inhumane practice (Banks, 2011).

The collaboration among a social worker and the situation is a significant aspect when making a decision, especially when making high-profile decisions in extreme settings, such as child protection or mental health services, which is a challenged social workers face as it can lead to work anxiety (Cooper and Whittaker, 2014; Whittaker, 2011). The relationship between a decision-maker and a situation is the relationship between a social worker and their supervisor (Whittaker and Taylor, 2018) as when decision-making and judgement is discussed it allows time to reflect and consider all options, especially when it comes to extreme changes, such as placing a child in foster care or detaining someone under the Mental Health Act (Taylor, 2017). On the other hand, it is important to recognise that social workers make a number of decisions within the profession and certain recommendations for a course of action even if the social worker doesn’t make the final decision, that may be less high profile but are as significant (Taylor, 2017). Ethical decision-making is a fundamental area of social work when making judgements and decisions and when in the process of making ethical decisions, ethical principles need to be considered (Yeung et al., 2010), so ethical decisions require hard-work as social workers are constantly negotiating and questioning the best course of action to take (Banks, 2011).

Many aspects of social work are stressful and require careful decision-making (Banks, 2011), for example when on placement I was given the opportunity to read foster placement referrals and consider whether we have any potential foster carer’s. When first given this task it was a challenge for me to make a decision, with time restrictions, if the match between a child and foster parent is the correct match, due to wanting to make the right decision with the child’s best interest at heart.

As a student social worker, one solution to challenging decision-making is to recognise the moral effects of my work when in practice and understand ethical guidelines within the Social work code of ethics, which help provide guidance when ethical decisions arise (Banks, 2001). Consequently, it is likely all social workers will be faced with ethical dilemmas and need to know how to address them and models for ethical decision-making are essential to help with choosing the right course of action, especially when practicing in complicated environments with fewer resources, (Harrington and Dolgoff, 2008).

As a student social worker, I feel austerity and decision-making are linked together as workloads are increasing for social workers, especially with the cut to funding within social care and more pressure on social workers to make decisions in a short period of time. Social workers face certain challenges because of conflicting issues such as limited resources, ethical decision-making and the competing role of helper and controller (Harrington and Dolgoff, 2008). A solution to austerity and decision-making is effective supervision, manageable workloads and suitable working conditions (Ferguson, 2013). Another solution is the relationship between the social worker and their supervisor as effective supervision will allow me as a student social worker to engage in ‘detailed looking’, as this allows for the emotionally painful dimensions of practice to be more accessible (Whittaker and Taylor, 2018). Supervisors that will actively listen in supervision meetings will help with difficult decisions and using their problem-solving skills and provides an opportunity for greater consideration of the listening dimension of supervisory practice (Whittaker and Taylor, 2018).

In conclusion two of the main challenges of contemporary professional social work practice are austerity and decision-making, which will have an impact on me as a student social worker. The main solutions to help assist me to overcome these challenges is de-briefing and building on knowledge in supervision.

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Contemporary Professional Social Work Challenges. (2022, February 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 18, 2024, from
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