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About this book

Principles of social justice lie at the heart of the social work profession. This book examines the current climate of social work practice and the challenges presented by neoliberalism. It puts forward a model for reconnecting with more traditional social justice values and doing the right thing rather than just doing things the right way.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

Abstract
This chapter introduces the reader to the key terms and ideas that will be used throughout the book. Neoliberalism, values, ethics, social justice, and ethical stress will be defined and explained, thereby giving a common understanding and meaning which will be essential as ideas are expanded on and explored in subsequent chapters. Some evidence for the utility of the book will also be introduced. Finally, descriptions and rationales for forthcoming chapters will be presented. This book is designed to assist students and practitioners to navigate their way through the application of social work values and, in particular, to reconnect to the fundamental value of a commitment to social justice. In July 2014 the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) and the International Association of Schools of Social Work General Assembly agreed on the following global definition of social work: Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work. Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing. (IFSW 2014, np, emphasis added)
Jane Fenton

2. The Social Work Context

Abstract
This chapter explores the contemporary social work context, with a particular focus on those features that contribute to the experience of ethical stress. How have those developments emerged over time and how have we arrived at the current picture? This chapter will attempt to answer these questions by tracing the development of social work from the Enlightenment and emergence of modern values to the present day. A contemporary, neoliberal picture of the social work landscape will be explored, featuring managerialism, individualism, participationism, and privatisation, and the chapter will examine how the consequences of this picture for social work practice can result in ethical stress for workers. Social work is not a neutral profession, operating in a vacuum and unaffected by political and social developments. Quite the opposite, in fact, with the impact of changes in the demography of society having extremely significant consequences for social work provision. Think about the amount of discussion going on at the present time about the ‘ageing population’ and what this means for the provision of social care in the future. Think about the change in family structure and the increased need for childcare provision as more women enter the employment market. Alongside these and other demographic changes, political changes and imperatives also lead to changing emphasis on where social work should target its efforts. This leads, in turn, to shifts and changes in everyday social work practice. This section will briefly trace the main developments and changes in the social work context from the Enlightenment to the present day.
Jane Fenton

3. Them and Us

Abstract
This chapter explores why neoliberalism might, in fact, be acceptable to social workers and students. In what way might social workers absorb the principles of neoliberalism uncritically and unquestioningly and, thus, avoid the important experience of ethical stress? The chapter will also look at some of the ways in which the public are convinced that the neoliberal world view is the correct one and will help students and social workers critique the perceived ‘common sense’. The previous chapter explored the ethical stress-inducing features of the contemporary social work landscape and highlighted the importance of social workers developing a ‘world view’ and an understanding of the effects of neoliberalism on their work and on service users. However, the point was also made in the preceding chapters that younger social workers and social work students might experience less ethical stress than their older colleagues, as they may be far more uncritically accepting of neoliberalism. They may find the neoliberal ‘version’ of social work a reasonably comfortable one. This chapter will explore why that might be and will help readers understand why social work practice may be becoming increasingly congruent with Michael Gove’s vision whereby social workers ‘make’ service users ‘stand on their own two feet’ and stop them making ‘excuses for their behaviour’ (Telegraph 2013).
Jane Fenton

4. Current Ethical Approaches and Care

Abstract
This chapter will explore the current ethical approaches used in social work today, namely utilitarianism, deontology, virtue ethics, and the ethics of care. The question of whether social workers can justify and analyse neoliberal, value-poor practice through these ethical frameworks will be posed. An ethics of care approach will be offered as the one most in keeping with valueinformed practice, and the idea of keeping care at the heart of practice will be discussed. So far we have explored the two organising concepts or themes of this book. The first, ethical stress, has been defined, and examples of situations, linked to neoliberalism, that should produce ethical stress in social workers have been discussed. Secondly, social work’s dissociation from the core principle of social justice has been analysed, once again in terms of neoliberal hegemony. Readers should, at this point, be able to understand the changing face of social work and the very negative effect this can have on service users. This chapter will further that understanding by exploring how social workers and students can justify neoliberal practice by reference to a blunt understanding of existing ethical approaches. To begin that exploration, current ethical approaches will be discussed. Utilitarianism is associated with Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, nineteenth-century British philosophers and social reformers. The central idea of utilitarianism is that the right action is the one that produces the greatest good over evil for the greatest number of people. This is the principle of utility (Banks 2012).
Jane Fenton

5. Connecting an Ethics of Care with Ethical Stress: As Easy As It Sounds?

Abstract
This chapter will tackle the reality of the conscious implementation of an ethics of care approach in the current social work context. It will also introduce ways of coping with (healthy) ontological anxiety and ways to act on the experience of ethical stress, which is a sign that practice is not valuecongruent. (See Chapter 8 for further development of these ideas.) Finally, the chapter will consider situations where taking an ethics of care approach is less straightforward. At this point in the book it has been suggested that an ethics of care approach can resist managerial procedural practice. However, taking an ethics of care approach to your own practice may not be as easy as it sounds in the current context, where managerialism and risk aversion abounds, time is short, colleagues are not all like-minded, and some of the people we work with have done terrible things and simply do not want to engage with social workers. The choice for many social workers is between following the party line, on one hand, and making sure the bureaucratic imperatives are top priority; or, on the other hand, prioritising the relationship with services users and prioritising their needs in order to care. Those who choose the latter might well feel out on a limb and experience a certain amount of what Taylor (2007) calls ontological anxiety. Taylor defines ontological anxiety as anxiety arising from the actions a social worker takes in good faith but that still produce worries and uncertainty for the worker.
Jane Fenton

6. Social Justice

Abstract
This chapter will get to grips with how social workers can keep a robust connection to social justice in all of their practice. No matter what the setting, social workers should be able to practise in a socially just manner. Ideas from radical and critical social work and anti-oppressive and human rights-based practice will inform and underpin the practicalities of practising in this way. So far we have acquired some knowledge about social justice. As explained in Chapter 1, we are adopting a radical interpretation of social justice that is redistributive in nature, that is, a belief in increased equality of condition as well as opportunity. We have also taken a position that neoliberalism is antithetical to social justice since its consequences include increased inequality and poverty for those on the lowest rungs of the social status and economic ladder. Chapter 3 explored neoliberal hegemonic efforts to justify and perpetuate increased inequality by blaming individuals and their behaviour for poverty, unemployment, and other social problems. In contrast to this, a social justice-informed view would be that structural inequalities are primarily to blame for social problems. As poverty, inequality, pressure, and stress increase, so do problems of family violence, crime, and substance misuse (Ferguson and Lavalette 2009; Wilkinson and Pickett 2010).
Jane Fenton

7. Relationship-Based Practice

Abstract
This chapter considers relationship-based practice as the main tenet in employing an ethics of care and an eclectic social justice approach. Relationship-based practice is, in fact, the glue that holds the suggested Practice Model together. What relationship practice is, is explored and the links between it and the other aspects of the model are analysed. The chapter then considers some possible limitations on relationship-based practice and suggests possible countermeasures. Relationships are central to being human, and social work is undertaken within a myriad of different kinds of relationships. This aspect of social work is often what attracts people to the profession – potential students may give examples of how their friends approach them for advice, how they are good at developing relationships (especially in situations where it has been quite difficult to do so), and how they enjoy human interaction rather than more distant or detached types of work. It is difficult to overstate the importance of relationships to human beings and, more specifically, to social work. Hennessey (2011, p31), for example, sums up a key foundational belief of relationship-based social work which is: ‘Who we are is a construction of how others have related to us.’ In other words, we are formed by the relationships that we have experienced throughout our lives, and we need to understand this in relation to ourselves and to those we work with.
Jane Fenton

8. Ethical Stress, Anxiety, and Professional Practice

Abstract
Chapter 8 takes as its focus a further interrogation of the horizontal features of the Practice Model. It analyses the relationship between ethical stress and ethical action and considers the features that enhance that connection. The chapter then looks at ontological anxiety and strategies for coping. Finally, the chapter explores the impact of notions of professionalism on ethical stress and/or anxiety and identifies a form of professionalism that is congruent with the Practice Model. With social work, we face the bigger challenge of convincing the uncommitted – and we assume there are many – that there is something worthwhile to be had in taking a political stance and engaging in a radical project. We are persuaded, often by ourselves, that radical politics is futile. So we tend towards compromise, resignation and indifference. (McKendrick and Webb 2014) The above quote succinctly captures the feeling of many social work students with whom I have contact, and, I would suggest, many younger workers as per the evidence provided in Chapter 1. It is the younger generation of social workers who appear to be more accepting of neoliberal principles, resigned to things being the way they are, and indifferent to any alternative world view.
Jane Fenton

9. Conclusion

Abstract
This concluding chapter will recap the learning journey so far. The main learning points will be highlighted, as will the development of the new Practice Model. The Practice Model will then be applied to the case study introduced in Chapter 3 and its usage will be analysed in some detail. The model will then be applied to some current examples of what is considered good practice, leading to further critical analysis. The Journey So Far This book began with definitions of the main concepts that are threaded throughout all chapters, namely neoliberalism, values, and social justice. The two central themes of the book were also introduced. Theme 1 is ‘reconnection to social justice’ and takes as its starting point the idea that contemporary social work might actually be losing that fundamental connection. Evidence is presented that suggests that newer workers and social work students appear to be less critical of neoliberalism and, as a result, less connected to notions of social justice. This theme is revisited in several chapters and provides justification for the assertion that social work requires a new Practice Model that reinstates social justice as a key and indispensible principle in social work practice. Theme 2 is ‘ethical stress’, which is the feeling experienced when social workers, who have as a pre-requisite a robust and coherent value base, are asked to practice in a context that does not allow expression of those values. The idea is introduced that the experience of ‘ethical stress’ is a useful and healthy one which can provide impetus for questioning taken-for-granted practice or for taking ethical action.
Jane Fenton
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