Social Work Discretion between Professionalism and Managerialism in Denmark

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 4:30 PM
Room: 414
Distributed Paper
Anette SKALS , Department of Sociology and Social Work, Aalborg University, Denmark
Professionalism and managerialism are important and conflicting concepts in the study of professionals working in public service organizations. By focusing on street-level social workers and social work discretion, it is possible to see how welfare-to-work policies are practiced as well as how organizational guidelines frame discretionary powers. This paper seeks to account for how management organizes, supervises and seeks control over social work discretion. The paper also addresses how management influences the discretionary powers of social workers in a Danish municipality working with clients who are unfit for work or labour market due to health problems. In Denmark the local municipal Job Centre delivers services related to welfare-to-work. Here values, interests and policies, transformed into rules and regulation, meet the concrete practices of welfare-to-work service inside the specific street-level organization. This is a fundamental democratic process of implementation. It makes discretion inevitable and crucial as professional judgments and decision making, determines the client’s eligibility to benefits and need for special attention or intervention before returning to work. Here professionalism is institutionalized in bureaucratic organizations. Hence the social workers must control clients’ legal access to sick leave programmes and at the same time deliver individualized services to promote the workability of the client in order to help them become self-supporting after sick leave. As well as examining how social work discretion is made possible in the job centre, the research behind the paper discusses the issue of new forms of professionalism emerging in social work. In the light of policy changes and reforms of welfare services a new type of social interventions towards people on sick leave is demanded. This can place pressure on the street-level organization to develop new or more professionalism.