Academic journal article Human Organization

Professionalizing Human Services: A Case of Domestic Violence Shelter Advocates

Academic journal article Human Organization

Professionalizing Human Services: A Case of Domestic Violence Shelter Advocates

Article excerpt

Recent decades have witnessed a shift in the provision of human services in America in multiple forms, including the work of caring for the elderly, people living with mental/physical disabilities, and other vulnerable populations. Using a case study of domestic violence shelter advocates, this paper explores the professionalization of advocating for and providing human services to victims of domestic violence. The introduction of the rhetoric of "boundaries" allows domestic violence advocates to justify separating their personal lives from their professional advocacy and reinforcing and unequal distribution of power between the advocates and the domestic violence victims. Furthermore, the domestic violence shelter organization acted to promote a message of professionalization to the advocates through an emphasis on credentials and previous work experience in a domestic violence shelter. Additionally, the domestic violence shelter advocates received a strong message in favor of professionalizing their work from the regional community of human service providers. As the local level response to domestic violence becomes increasingly professionalized, service providers negotiate professional expectations while struggling to provide human services to domestic violence victims.

Key words: domestic violence, professionalization, human services, shelters

Introduction

Recent decades have witnessed a shift in the provision of human services in America in multiple forms, ncluding the work of caring for the elderly, people living with mental/physical disabilities, and other vulnerable populations. Using a case study of domestic violence shelter advocates, this paper explores the professionalization of advocating for and providing human services to victims of domestic violence.1 The introduction of the rhetoric of "boundaries" allows domestic violence advocates to justify separating their personal lives from their professional advocacy and reinforces the unequal distribution of power between the advocates and the domestic violence victims. Furthermore, domestic violence shelter organizations act to promote a message of professionalization to the advocates through an emphasis on degree credentials and previous work experience in a domestic violence shelter. Additionally, domestic violence shelter advocates receive a strong message in favor of professionalizing their work from the regional community of human service providers. As the local level response to domestic violence becomes increasingly professionalized, service providers negotiate bureaucratic expectations while struggling to provide human services to domestic violence victims. This changes the nature of the ideology of domestic violence advocacy from "women helping women" to that of professional advocates helping women who are victims of domestic violence.

The anthropology of human services addresses the contemporary social problem of providing basic human needs to vulnerable populations. For instance, the issue of homelessness in the United States and the many possible solutions for the problem has received attention from social scientists (Desjarlais 1997; Hopper 2003). This includes focusing on the various homeless populations, such as Deborah Connolly's book Homeless Mothers: Face to Face with Women and Poverty (2000), which addresses the vicarious position of homeless women who are also mothers, analyzing the intersection of homelessness and mothers who epitomize the "bad" mother in the "public imagination and in public policies" (Connolly 2000:39). In another investigation with homeless women, Baldwin (1998) found that many women resisted social services because they felt they did not deserve assistance or aid, a trend found among populations in "service-resistant service settings" (Baldwin 1998:198). These studies bring to light the relationships between vulnerable populations and the human service providers seeking to address their needs.

Homelessness assistance is not the only human service field subject to the anthropological imagination. …

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