Tuula Tuominen (Sosiaalialan osaamiskeskus Pikassos / Pikassos, the Centre of Excellence on Social Welfare)
Topic: Everyday agency of social work clients and implications for practice
Thematic area: Professionalisation of Social Work
Co-author: Anna Pekkarinen, sosiaalialan osaamiskeskus Pikassos / Pikassos, the Centre of Excellence on Social Welfare
In this presentation, we introduce a research project concerning the life and agency of young men, who were long-term clients of adult social work, in their daily lives. The interest was to study what social work clientage means to young men and whether social work strengthens their agency. The interviews were analyzed with data-driven content analysis. The results show that the everyday agency of young long-term male social work clients appeared to be much more diverse and stronger than is often thought. Social work strengthened their agency when a strong relationship was formed with the social worker and the interaction was based on trust, genuine interest, and familiarity.
The agency was not always recognized in the processes of social work in the same regard as the men described experiencing it. According to the interviewees, exclusion was defined as being isolated at home or having mental health problems that prevented experiences of a meaningful life. The prevailing perception in our society of being excluded from working life as a measure of exclusion was not mentioned as the reason for that situation by anyone. Instead, they described taking and expressing agency in their everyday lives, and in doing so, it strengthened their sense of belonging.
Based on this, we have acknowledged that there prevails a need for social work with adults to become more sensitive and recognize the everyday agency of the clients in a more defined and comprehensive way. We claim that Finnish, individually oriented adult social work does not acknowledge and adequately include the families and communities of the social work clients. Consequently, we discuss the development of a method for social work practices, which can help a social worker to build relationships with clients through interpersonal recognition and cherish the clients’ agency in their daily lives. The developing method is based on the conclusions made in the research.