Social Work in between Privatisation and the Public Sector
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On October 21-23, 2009, the Department of Social Work at the Faculty of Health and Social Care of the University of Trnava (Slovakia) held an international congress on the theme of Social Work in between Privatisation and the Public Sector.
This was the third such event of its kind and the aim of the congress was to facilitate the exchange of information and experience among professionals from various European countries, representatives of both state and non-state organisations as well as educators and experts who are active in social work practice.
This year’s congress was devoted to the process of privatisation of the public sector and to the role and position of social work in this process. The main thematic areas of the congress were:
- the direction which social policy and social services in Europe are taking;
- the place of social work in a market economy;
- the role of the third sector in the provision of public services;
- co-operation of the public sector and non-governmental organisations in the area of services provision.
As in previous years, also this year’s event was organised in co-operation with the European Research Institute for Social Work (ERIS), of which the University of Trnava is a founding member. The invited guests contributed to the high quality of the congress with a range of excellent presentations: Prof. Jan Keller from the University of Ostrava, Msgr. František Tondra, Prof. Vojtěch Tkáč – former Minister of Labour, Social Affairs and Family of the Slovak Republic, Prof. Petr Erath and Prof. Christoph Fedke from the Catholic University in Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, Prof. Juha Hämäläinen from the University in Kuopio, Dr. Jeremy Evans from the University of Hertfordshire, Doc. Oldřich Chytil – the Director of ERIS, and many others. Altogether, guests from six countries and ten European universities accepted our invitation to participate in the congress.
The following issues were observed as the most important conclusions that the congress arrived at:
- We have been witnessing a process of gradual privatisation of the social services sector in several European countries and social services are becoming the subject of public tenders with the main selection criterion being the economic perspective, i.e. the price of the service. The fact that the contractors of services also determine the methods to be used by service providers in their work with clients also affects and changes the position of social work - as social work methods are determined with regard to their price and financial efficiency and are not based on a theoretical conception or model. It is the contractor who actually decides what methods are used and not the client, nor the client’s needs, characteristics and specifics.
- In Slovakia, non-state organisations are viewed as entities that in many places provide a substitute for the public sector and are even able to create and offer new models of how to address social problems. The main deficiencies are the insufficient co-operation between the public and the private sectors in the areas of financial and legislative support, exchange of information and active involvement in the creation of legislation.
This event organised by the Department of Social Work at the Faculty of Health and Social Care thus rounded off a series of internationally successful conferences with extensive foreign participation. Besides exchange of information and interesting observations, promotion of the university, or perhaps even of the country, an equally important benefit was the opportunity to acquaint ourselves with the knowledge and experiences of our colleagues from abroad.
Next year’s conference will be organised by the Catholic University of Applied Sciences in North Rhine-Westphalia. The conference will be held in October 2010 and will be entitled Social Work and Diversity. Looking at Gender, Class, Culture and Religion.
Minutes of Workshop I
Power and morality – not for profit organisations and their strategies for coping with marketisation and social services
Within this workshop six papers were delivered by presenters from three different countries. Most of the contributors discussed the situation of social work organisations and services between the market and civil society. Examples from different countries and local authorities were presented and showed different tensions between the overall public responsibility for the wellbeing of all citizens and different strategies for attaining this goal. A very interesting presentation from Pavol Beno and Maria Davidekova showed that people with problems related to death are expecting not to be treated as "handicapped" but instead as citizens with a legal right for translation and support. Other presentations, responding to the typical self-understanding of social work providers as "carers" or "pedagogues", challenged the profession by calling for "modernization" - which can be interpreted as a call for better "services" and less paternalistic or maternalistic "care". The new strategy involving a "personal budget" for clients met with a positive response in discussions, though participants felt that this could cause problems for the self-understanding of social work professionals. Case or care work as a pure model to help clients to discover "new resources" was discussed. All in all, presenters and participants seemed to be convinced that there is no other way than towards a commodification and marketisation of social work services.
Prof. Dr. Peter Erath, Eichstaett
Minutes of Workshop II
In the Czech Republic, it is possible to identify a process of ongoing privatisation of the social services sector. Social services have become the subject of public tenders where the decisive evaluation criterion is the price of the service. The contractor of services also determines the methods to be used by the supplier of services when working with clients. This requirement fundamentally changes the position of social work. In this way, social work methods are not determined by a theoretical conception or model that matches the target group of clients. It is the contracting authority (an official) who decides what social work methods are used.
In Slovakia, non-state non-profit organisations are viewed as entities which may effectively complement the sector of services organised by municipalities or by the state and possibly also offer new models of how to address social problems. The example presented at the workshop involved social work in schools.
Examples of co-operation between the primary sector and the public sector in the quest for the appropriate manner of their co-operation were the speeches describing work with the following target groups:
- victims of human trafficking,
- asylum seekers.
Updated: 18. 11. 2022