BEYOND "PROVIDING SERVICES": Voices of Service Users on Structural Social Work Practice in Community-Based Social Service Agencies

By George, Purnima; Coleman, Brienne et al. | Canadian Social Work Review, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

BEYOND "PROVIDING SERVICES": Voices of Service Users on Structural Social Work Practice in Community-Based Social Service Agencies


George, Purnima, Coleman, Brienne, Barnoff, Lisa, Canadian Social Work Review


Abstract: Despite the commitment of structural social work to hearing the voices of service users, these voices have not been evident in evaluations of structural social work as a model of practice. In this qualitative study, researchers interviewed service users at three social service agencies to elicit their perspectives on service delivery in agencies practising from a structural social work approach. Findings show that structural social work practice in these agencies transcends "providing service" to engage service users in a process that affirms their humanity and that ultimately creates a space for them to become powerful agents of change.

Abrégé : Malgré l'engagement du service social structurel d'être a l'écoute des utilisateurs de services, ceux-ci n'ont pas beaucoup pris la parole lors des évaluations du service social structurel comme modèle de pratique. Dans cette étude qualitative, les chercheurs ont interviewé des utilisateurs de services de trois organismes de services sociaux pour sonder leur opinion quant à la prestation de services par les organismes ayant recours à la pratique du service social structurel. Les résultats montrent que la pratique du service social culturel dans ces organismes transcende la « prestation de services » et engage les utilisateurs des services dans un processus qui affirme leur humanité et qui, en bout de ligne, leur donne un espace qui leur permet de devenir de puissants agents de changement.

STRUCTURAL SOCIAL work theorists and practitioners strongly espouse a commitment to hearing the voices of those who have been silenced by forces of oppression. Given that commitment, it is puzzling that there has been little attention to service users' perceptions of the model of structural social work. Debate and innovation in structural social work theory and practice have typically been restricted to the realms of academics and practitioners. As a model of practice intended to be emancipatory for service users, structural social work thus exists within a state of paradox.

This article addresses this gap, reporting on a study that explored the perspectives of service users who participate in agencies that practise from a structural social work perspective helps address this gap. The study examined the impacts of structural social work upon the lives of service users, as seen from their perspectives. This knowledge is essential to the advancement of structural social work theory and practice. The research found that structural social work practice in social service agencies transcends "service provision" to engage participants in a process that affirms their humanity. We find that structural social work creates a space for service users to become powerful agents of change.

Perspectives of service users

To date, literature on the practice of critical models of social work has been focused primarily on the perspectives of practitioners (Baines, 2000, 2002; Barnoff, 2001, 2005; Barnoff & Moffatt, 2007; George, 2003; Gorey, Thyer & Pawluck, 1998; Moreau, Frosst, Frayne, Hlywa, Leonard, & Rowell, 1993; Moreau & Leonard, 1989; Preyde & Gorey, 1997). The formal development of social work theory and knowledge has not systematically included the views of service users (Russell & White, 2001; Sakamoto & Pitner, 2005; Wilson & Beresford, 2000). Research including the perspectives of service users has tended to focus on particular programs (Conners & Franklin, 2000; Eley, Beaton & McIvor, 2005; Gray, 2003; Kane, Homyak & Bershadsky, 2002; Leigh & Miller, 2004; Nesmith, Burton & Cosgrove, 1999) or micro practice and the therapeutic relationship (Borg & Kristiansen, 2004; Gallegos, 2005; Ribner & Knei-Paz, 2002).

Russell & White (2001, 2002) are among the few who have focused attention on the responses of service users to a particular model of practice, the multicultural service provision model. …

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