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Phenomena after Promulgation of the Social Worker Act

Although the promulgation of the Social Worker Act is one of the important indicators of the professionalization of social work in Taiwan, several challenges emerged, including doubts over the professional role, contradiction between the professional system and professional autonomy, and constant controversy regarding the professional social worker examination, all leading to the demand for amendments.

Doubts over the Professional Role

During the events of the abolition of prostitution in Taipei City and the demolition of Taipei's Nos 14 and 15 Parks, the grass-roots social workers realized that they were stuck in a dilemma and eventually 'betrayed' the latter (Fang and Cheng, 1999). Those who became professional social workers after the promulgation of the Social Worker Act suffered from the contradiction between reality and their ideology and started to develop doubts. Fang Ya Li (1999: 33) once said,

I wonder what my role is in these two incidents? Am I a righteous policy executer or the one to clean out suffer from the unpleasant situation for the government? During the process … . On one side, there are vulnerable people ignored in the society, and there are professional social workers on the other, authorized with power from the nation. Both sides all struggle for their own living, yet for the latter this means to expel those vulnerable people from the world where they are no longer tolerated. This process is rather ambiguous and will definitely create an opposing situation for the bureaucracy and professional autonomy.

There are more doubts about the role of the profession. Yang Mei Ying posed the problem that the object of service might change – from disadvantaged groups to the upper level of society. This is against the genuine meaning of the profession and causes an issue of professionalization positioning. Chou Yueh Ching (2002) thinks the Social Worker Act has brought about a crisis where the profession is controlled by the system and academia and is facing the fact of being homogenized. Through research on case management in social work fields, Wang Tseng
Yun (2003) analyzed the process of 'skill/knowledge transmission', mapping out the professional position of social workers, who have become the players of social control during the process of professionalization. Also, during the earthquake of 21 September 1999 (known as the 921 Incident) and the SARS period, the social workers' role was questioned because they were not able to be effective in time and later faced the mess of government withdrawal of subsidies12 and unemployment. The above facts reveal a question about whether social workers offer services to disadvantaged groups based on their profession or whether they are, in fact, stuck in this professional position and do not know how to define their professional role. Or do they lose their identification with their profession due to being stuck in their professional position? The discussion and controversy over the role of social workers and their responsibility continues.

The Contradiction of the Professional System and Professional Autonomy

The controversy generated by doubts over the role of the profession further triggered discussions on the professional system and the contradiction of professional autonomy. Tao Fan Ying (1999) was the first to mention that institutionalization does not equal professionalization. Institutionalization tends to walk side by side with, or even cling to, the government system; in professionalization, the degree of professional autonomy increases, enhancing control over the working field. Hence, institutionalization and professionalization are like two paths leading professional development in completely different directions. He also believes that the Social Worker Act is like institutionalization for the social work profession, leaving an illusion of professionalization but in truth reducing the freedom of professional autonomy.

Under this institutionalization in Taiwan, the autonomy of basic-level social work was gradually impaired with social welfare organizations drawing close to the government and the academic groups full of power and knowledge; it is the government that decides what to do, and the scholars/experts determine how to do it and evaluate the results (Wang, 2006). Some social workers felt that the professional system equated to deserting the object of service, as described by Fang Yu (2004: 77):

The profession I am facing is actually one that requires efficiency, effectiveness and performance, self-aggrandized and controlled by power and politics; it can never stand side by side with the ones to be concerned.

Besides the professional system and professional autonomy, the impact of managerialism on professional personnel was also discussed. This indicates that social work is now in the quasi-market stage. It is necessary to break down the traditional hierarchical management, with a certain degree of professional

11 Please refer to the Community Life and Society Reconstruction Promotion Task Force website at 921.yam.org.tw/workstation/swact/index.htm. autonomy being sacrificed, to accomplish social workers' role in the competitive

market (Huang, 1999: 202).

To conclude, these discussions and analysis of institutionalization, power structure, or the applying of new management tools all highlight the contradictory and complex relationship between professional autonomy and the professional system. Among them, weakened professional autonomy and the paradoxical relation with clients are significant questions found in every aspect of social work.13

 
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