Over the course of the past eleven years, we have had many conversations with students both in and outside the classroom. A recurrent focus of these conversations has been the worsening conditions associated with social service work. The points made by students have remained fairly consistent. The increasing case loads, more complex problems of clients, and contraction of resources have profoundly affected the quality and content of their work. Equally important, they suggest that the very process of delivering services is changing.
Over time we discovered that the content and tone of these conversations was not idiosyncratic. As we discussed these issues with colleagues, it became clear that this dialogue was being privately conducted throughout the field. People knew that social service work was changing, but no one seemed to want to say why or, for that matter, to publicly examine the problem. Instead, the anecdotal war stories of increasingly dissatisfying work conditions have become a part of the folklore of the service professions. We realized that the oral communication of discrete anecdotal data, however useful and at times powerful, was no substitute for more systematic analyses.
This book emerged in response to many social service workers' vivid descriptions of changes in the practice of their craft and to the scanty literature that addressed these concerns. Few works have attempted to explore the interplay between the recent broader changes affecting the welfare state (cost containment, privatization, etc.) and the restructuring of social service work. For instance, the critical dialogue throughout the 1980s on fiscal cuts experienced by the welfare state was almost exclusively focused on policy issues and their effects on various populations. Rarely, if ever, were practice concerns given equal weight or even mentioned. Yet it is clear that the fiscal decisions of the 1980s profoundly affected both the context (intensifying bureaucratization) and content (deprofessionalization) of social service practice.