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"The neglected professionals" : social workers and their power. Assoc. Prof. Birutė Švedaitė-Sakalauskė (Assoc. Prof. J. Buzaitytė-Kašalynienė Assoc. Prof. L. Gvaldaitė). WIT project, Vilnius, 26 th of June 2014. European Commission as Contracting Authority.

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the neglected professionals social workers and their power

"The neglected professionals": social workers and their power

Assoc. Prof. Birutė Švedaitė-Sakalauskė

(Assoc. Prof. J. Buzaitytė-Kašalynienė

Assoc. Prof. L. Gvaldaitė)

WIT project, Vilnius, 26thof June 2014

EuropeanCommissionasContracting Authority

With financialsupport from the European Union


In 2012-2013 a scientific research project of "Social Work - Between Dependency and Autonomy" was implemented.

Its aim was to analyse the relationship of the social workers with power/force/authority.

A qualitative and quantitative researches.

The social workers as the “neglected professionals” or “neglected professionalism” represent one of the empirical categories which we reconstructed as a result of the qualitative research in the analysis of the reports of social workers and their leadership (approx. 170 pages of text).

We were mostly interested to know what social workers do when they are being neglected. How do they deal with "neglect"?

the neglected professionals description of the phenomenon
"The neglected professionals" – description of the phenomenon

Neglect takes places when:

  • requirements for social workers are too low
  • requirements are impossible to fulfil
  • social workers are made to defy the aims, principles, values and ethics of social work in their activities
  • results are required without the corresponding measures provided.

Neglect can happen: a) within the organization of employment (neglect by the management, colleagues, etc.), b) externally (cooperating institutions, specialists, etc.).

Neglect can be weak – strong – very strong. The latter hurts not only the professional role, but personal dignity as well.

Neglect is related to the relationship of dependency. (N. Elias: In so far as we are more dependent on others than they are on us, they have power over us...)

the reasons for neglected professionalism
The reasons for "neglected professionalism":
  • The demand for social work is formed and controlled by entities devoid of sufficient knowledge of this field (red-tape administrators guided by their red-tape logic)
  • The professional community of social workers is not strong enough to represent its professional identity and needs in the above mentioned institutions.

Who is the "chicken" and who is the "egg" here? 

the contextual conditions for dealing with this phenomenon
The contextual conditions for dealing with this phenomenon

The context in which the social workers operate has a lot of impact on the ways to fight with "neglect".

The contexts can be of two types:

  • Environment encouraging the social work professionalism (the organization and its management method)
  • Environment not encouraging the professionalism (discouraging professionalism, ruining professionalism).

!!! Only the environment which encourages professionalism can be relevant for the specific nature of social work.

!!! The environment which does not foster (or even ruins) professionalism is "neglect of professionalism" in itself.

dealing with neglect what social workers do
Dealing with "neglect": what social workers do?

Robert Merton'stypology of adaptation to anomie (Anomie – strain caused by mismatch between the goals and means. Strain should be dealt with):

  • Conformity: social workers conform with neglect towards them, adapt to it and sincerely perform what they are required to do (even though they feel that this is not good, by they do not think they can change anything).
  • Innovation: social workers can not agree with the requirements, however, can not resist them directly, thus, implement manipulations ("first do it, then voice it"; "ignore the rules when no one notices that"; "the management thinks that this was their own idea"; "my actions are different from what I write on paper"; "maybe an audit or inspection can force them to act differently")
  • Ritualism: imitation of social work ("we write more than we help"; "we are not social workers, we are here to check the gas meters"; "the main goal is to avoid scandals"; "we document every step we make")
dealing with neglect what social workers do1
Dealing with "neglect": what social workers do?
  • Separation: social workers withdraw themselves externally or internally ("resign as a social worker"; "emigrate", "get ill", "become invisible", "regress individually or collectively")
  • Revolt: social workers rise against the leadership ("work through the trade union").

CONCLUSION: only a revolt is a chance to really change something in the environment which does not nurture professionalism. Unfortunately, the remaining strategies rotate the same vicious circle of "neglected professionalism"! Moreover, they enhance the problem in Lithuania where social work is taken for what it is not and can not be!

what social workers fail to do even if they could
What social workers fail to do even if they could?
  • They do not rally or assemble into associated structures (large or small – specialized), even though they are numerous and, thus, could have power.

According to the data of the research carried out in 2013 (966 social workers):

- 81 percent agree with the fact that they should be active members of associations and represent the interests of the profession, however, only 17 percent practise that and 19 percent encourage others to do that.

Then the question is - why? It probably pays off more to complain and suffer alone than to act in an associated manner together... Is it more comfortable to be powerless than to gain power...?

why do not people use their potential powers
Why do not people use their potential powers?

For three reasons (according to B. Barry and K. Dowding):

1) When they do not see any chances of winning

2) When others do it for them

3) When they hope that others will do it for them (it is worth fighting collectively, but not individually)

The constructivist approach is even stricter in this: they claim that it is quite beneficial to be powerless, as you do not have to be responsible. "Power is not as corrupt...but the myth of power is" (G. Bateson).

The myth of power can work best when it is not spoken of, when it is not being analysed. However, it is debunked when it comes out in the open.

in conclusion a few words about cinderella
In conclusion, a few words about Cinderella 

Social work is like Cinderella. Extremely kind, extremely beautiful, but hurt, pushed, unloved and undervalued by all...

The fairy tale of Cinderella can be perceived from two perspectives:

  • Literal – after long sufferings a miracle will happen as the triumph of justice when the fairies and the magic prince will come to the rescue
  • Psychoanalytical – (according to C. G. Jung) the miracle can be made by the profession alone. However, it should reach maturity and emancipation. (the neglect of the social work profession is directly related to its immaturity and dependency).

Maybe the increasing feeling of "being neglected" proves that the social workers are finally on their way to maturity and emancipation? 


  • With financial support from the European Union – European Commission as Contracting Authority

This training material is supported by the European Union Programme for Employment and Social Solidarity - PROGRESS (2007-2013). This programme is implemented by the European Commission. It was established to financially support the implementation of the objectives of the European Union in the employment, social affairs and equal opportunities area, and thereby contribute to the achievement of the Europe 2020 Strategy goals in these fields.

The seven-year Programme targets all stakeholders who can help shape the development of appropriate and effective employment and social legislation and policies, across the EU-27, EFTA-EEA and EU candidate and pre-candidate countries.

For more information see:

The information contained in this publication doesn’t necessarily reflect the position or opinion of the European Commission.

The sole responsibility of this content lies with the author. The Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information here contained.