‘Stuck in the middle with you’: towards enabling social work with disabled people

Alan Roulstone

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    11 Citations (Scopus)


    This article explores progress to date in embedding enabling social work understandings and practices with disabled people by reviewing the UK social work curriculum. Based on these observations and the ideas from UK disability studies, it will offer possible solutions or at least better pathways to enabling practice with disabled people. As Meekosha has pointed out in a global context, to date social work has been experienced as an ambivalent practice [Meekosha, H. & Dowse, L. (2007) ‘Integrating critical disability studies into social work education and practice: an Australian perspective’, Practice, vol. 19, no. 3, pp. 59–72], often both enabling and disabling; an intervention that can both lock and unlock resources, and challenge and reaffirm traditional notions of the ‘disability problem’ [Finkelstein, V. (1993) ‘Disability: A Social Challenge or an Administrative Responsibility?’, in Disabiling Barriers ‐ Enabling Environments, eds J. Swain, V. Finkelstein, S. French and M. Oliver, Sage Publications in association with the Open University, London]. Social work also has the potential to both challenge, but also be an (inadvertent) apologist for contemporary social support and welfare systems. Indeed it is clear that social work as a profession and social care as a policy area have been the poor relations of healthcare and health professions [King's Fund (2011) Social Care Funding and the NHS: An Impending Crisis?, King's Fund, London]. Viewed anthropologically, social work remains a largely non-disabled workforce ‘ministering’ to disabled clients (BCODP, 1997). This might reinforce the perception of ‘us and them’ in some social work encounters. As Paul Longmore questioned, can we begin to go ‘beyond affliction’ (2003) in our work with disabled people? Can social work help support the collective struggles of disabled people or is their role inevitably to reinforce that of individual(ised) clients? The development of the personalisation agenda and self-directed support is clearly welcome in this context [DoH (2006) Our Health, Our Care, Our Say: A New Direction for Community Services, Department of Health, London; DoH (2007) Independence, Choice and Risk: A Guide to Best Practice in Supported Decision-Making, Department of Health, London; DoH (2009) Personalisation of Social Care Services, Department of Health, London]. Such developments reflect the changing service user–professional relationship. The temptation to see these developments as the icing on the social support cake needs, however, to be resisted. Arguably, with the increased rationing of social support, the continued role of social workers in assessment and monitoring of support could be seen to require a yet more reflexive and enabling professional education and training in an age of austerity, one where previously supported disabled people are being told that their needs can no longer be met.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)142-154
    JournalSocial Work Education
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2012


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