University Of Tasmania
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Shining a light on care in direct social work practice

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posted on 2023-05-27, 10:28 authored by Jenny HayJenny Hay
This study critically examines how care operates as a concept and practice in direct social work practice. While 'care' has been positioned as a core value of the social work profession since its inception, the increasing influence of neo-liberal rationalities and evidence based practice have placed care on the periphery of social work practice. Social work scholars have promoted the incorporation of ethic of care theory into direct social work practice as a means of countering the effects of a context that is antithetical to caring practice. The research provides an original contribution to an understanding of care. I address the gap between abstract notions of an ethic of care and concrete ways of enacting care in direct social work practice, by capturing the lived experience of social workers and social work clients. My qualitative research was guided by a grounded theory approach to answer the question: how does thinking about, doing and experiencing care in direct social work practice inform an ethic of care for the profession? Fifteen social workers and 15 social work clients from Tasmania were recruited through purposive and snowball sampling. They were interviewed using a semi-structured interview schedule. The interviews were analysed using constructivist grounded theory techniques. Deep listening, non-judgment, a commitment to meeting needs, showing empathy and compassion, and just being there for clients in times of distress were some of the ways that social workers and clients said care was demonstrated in practice. Additionally, clients indicated mutual trust was a vital component of care. Both social workers and clients shared inspiring accounts of caring practice, however, clients also frequently mentioned experiences of uncaring practice. On the basis of these findings I suggest a practice theory of care that is reflective of Tronto's (1993) five dimensions of care. Extending Tronto's conceptualisation of care, I add that an ethic of care in direct social work practice involves perceiving care as a 'virtue', continual evaluation of caring practice, developing trusting relationships, and balancing a commitment to social justice with care. My theory of care culminates in 'valuing the other'. The implications of these findings are discussed, alongside ideas for future research.


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Copyright 2015 the author

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