Investigation of the impact of change on social work manager-professionals after more than a decade of ideological shifts and legislative reform. 1979 - 2007

Heyes, Jane (2008) Investigation of the impact of change on social work manager-professionals after more than a decade of ideological shifts and legislative reform. 1979 - 2007. Masters thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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This thesis was initiated during a time of profound economic, political and social change. It was triggered by social work academic and professional unrest at the 'crisis' that was characteristic of change within state social work (Clarke 1993). The first stage of enquiry took place between 1994 and 1999, during most of which time a Conservative government was in power. The aim of the research was to explore first line managers' experiences of change in local authority social work, and to formulate some conclusions about the impact of New Right policies and ideologies on social work. The second stage critically reflected on the findings from the first stage in a context of New Labour policy and ideology.
Initially this research project explored changes in social services working practices by thematically analysing qualitative data collected from interviews with first line social work managers. Forty interviews were conducted within 2 local authorities. The aim of the interview process was to enable each individual to focus on their experiences of change in social work since 1979. Recorded interviews of 1 - 2 hours, enabled detailed analysis of a considerable volume of material. The sample group were made up of first line managers from a variety of specialist teams. The data revealed a divergence in perceptions of change
among first line managers. Categories were established from within the narratives of the interviews, in order to classify the key factors contributing to the discursive construction of characteristically 'managerialist' and 'professionalist' first line managers.
The 1997 election brought New Labour to power. It appeared that further dramatic changes were about to impact on the shape of state social work, as welfare policy focussed the attention of the new government. An opportunity arose to consider the state of social work practice within New Labour's Modernisation strategy.
The second stage commenced with a review of key themes emerging from the analysis of data. Issues arising in the interview transcripts that preoccupied the sample group in the mid 1990s were re-visited, and critically discussed in the context of subsequent policy initiatives and published research findings (Richards 2000; Postle 2001).
Three themes were drawn from preliminary analyses that had established characteristically managerialist and professionalist clusters amongst the sample group.
loss of social work skills and knowledge/ changing practice
conflict and fragmentation with colleagues
• qualification and training issues.
For each of these three themes a clearly managerialist perspective presented overarching views about change and accountability, whilst a professionalist perspective offered an alternative point of view, based upon professional values
and knowledge informed practice. Conclusions have shown that New Labour's political agenda strongly favours accountability at all costs. Regulation and target setting define even the smallest social work task (Carey 2003), and take precedence over flexible 'service user centred' approaches to meeting need. This challenges the professional identity of some social workers, despite registration and postqualifying developments. What social workers know about meeting need is
compromised by managerialist agendas, deskilling and de-motivating them, and weakening their effectiveness.

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