Normative and Positive Social Work in the Context of the Placement Decision: A Defence of Social Workers
AbstractTwo fundamental questions for social work are considered: one normative and one positive. First, is it possible for social work practice to be based on an objective that maximises social welfare; and second, does social work practice actually conform to some objective, which may or may not maximise social welfare? These two questions are addressed in the context of one of the most important decisions made by social workers - the placement decision. It is argued that deriving a societal objective faces formidable theoretical problems, and that even if a well-defined criterion was available, actual social work decisions would still be inconsistent due to a lack of the requisite information and different interpretations of the available data. It is argued that the substantial empirical evidence from around the world on the placement decision provides little evidence of consistent decision making. This may be because the statistical analyses have lacked the data and techniques necessary to detect the underlying patterns, or because placement decisions are largely random. The apparent absence of clear objectives, either specified by society or accepted custom and practice, places social workers in a very difficult position, making them open to press criticism and victimization, even though they acted entirely competently.
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