From gate-keepers to facilitators? The new professionalism of (social) care workers

Since the 1980s, the assessment of the needs of individuals, which is conditional to most welfare-, care- and labour-market services, has become increasingly strict. A combination of financial incentives, strict rules and result-oriented management was meant to increase the control of the assessment processes, with limiting access to services as ultimate goal (see for instance Morgen, 2001; Nalbandian, 2005; Cochrane, 2010). Some authors claim that this has led to minimalizing the agency and discretionary power of street-level workers. Clark (2005) even speaks of the deprofessionalization of care work.

With the emergence of local welfare systems, a restoration of professionalism appears to take place. Social care workers are expected to assess clients’ needs and capacities from an integrated perspective: health, housing, work, financial situation, social relations and overall well-being. They should develop tailor-made solutions, tuned at the unique constellation of clients’ characteristics. This requires the use of professional values and judgments, but still in the context of resources that are becoming increasingly limited (Jansen et al., 2010; see also Oldenhof, 2015).

Central research questions in this theme are:

  • Which challenges and dilemmas do care workers experience in their work?
  • What strategies do they develop to overcome these dilemmas?
  • Which conditions, competences and resources are required to adequately perform the tasks of individual assessments and delivery in local welfare systems?
  • How do the requirements of self-responsibility and self-sufficiency affect professional judgments of street-level bureaucrats?

EUR Research Excellence Initiative Research programme 2016-2020

The State of Local Welfare: Devolution of welfare state arrangements and the implementation, organization and management of welfare services