In social work, please explain how direct service workers are distinctly aware of agency-level policy issues that affect client groups and are usually the first to suspect a problem within an agency. Please show 2 hypothetical examples.
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Direct service social workers, as distinct from clinical social workers and so-called “macro” social workers – the latter category functions at an organizational level rather than directly with clients – are more aware of how policies affect clients precisely because they have the most face-to-face interaction with those clients. As noted, “macro” social workers do not interact with clients, except on very rare occasions, and function more as administrators and public policy advocates. Clinical social workers have direct interaction with clients on a more sporadic basis than direct service workers; it is the direct service workers who process clients into the system, inform them of their rights and benefits to which they may be entitled, and collect as much personal information on the client as possible. They also serve as the clients’ main point of contact between the public and the social welfare system. In short, they are well-positioned to observe the effects on clients of changes made at higher levels of the organizational ladder, all the way up to Congress or state legislatures.
One hypothetical example of the ability of direct service social workers to observe potential problems involves the direct interaction they have with families in the community. In other words, direct service social workers visit clients at their home for the purpose of observing and reporting on the conditions in those homes and the status of adults and children. No other category of social worker engages in this “street-level” activity. As such they are able to witness first-hand the ramifications of changes to policies regarding parental visitations rights when foster families or divorces/separations are involved, and they are better able to observe the ability of foster families to provide for the children placed in their care. While the process by which families are screened for eligibility to take in foster children is intended to minimize chances of abuse, that process may miss developing problems, like increasing friction within the foster home that adversely affects the child’s sense of stability – an already precarious situation by its nature.
Another example could be the social services agencies’ and the courts’ adherence to laws, which may seem obvious but cannot be assumed. A case in point involves the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), a 1978 law intended to maintain, to the extent practicable, the unity of Native American families, which were historically arbitrarily torn apart through racist policies intended to eradicate native cultures. It is the direct service social workers who, when relevant, work directly with Native American children and families and who regularly witness total disregard for that federal law – disregard sometimes grounded in ignorance, and sometimes grounded in simple apathy. That direct service social workers, including guardians ad litem, interact directly with these families while representing the parents and children in court provides them a first-hand look at how the courts apply, or don’t apply, federal statutes.
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