Self Determination

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Self determination means the right to determine ones own life. Client self determination in the context of modern day social work relates to the idea that we want our work to be anti oppressive and to empower our clients. It’s a theory that requires that we respect our client’s rights and dignity and we believe that nobody is more qualified to run their lives but them. The Australian Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics (AASW) outlines the role of the social worker and puts in place ethical guidelines that social workers must abide by when practising. The Code states that “each society has an obligation to pursue social justice, to provide maximum benefit for all its members and to afford them protection from harm” (AASW code of ethics 2004). This quote from the Code of Ethics puts emphasis on the principle self determination, as we believe that maximum benefit comes from empowering a client to feel confident to determine their own life.

“We believe that self-determination is an important value, although it needs to be balanced against dangers to others if decisions have the potential to harm others” (Chenoweth and McAuliffe (2008, p. 53). The conception of the discourse is largely derived from the works of French philosopher Michael Foucault. The main theme of Foucault’s work is” The importance of discourse as the location in which power is defined and refined” (M.foucault (1972). Archaeology of knowledge. New York, Pantheon.). It is proposed that there are 4 competing discourses in human service delivery these are Managerial discourse, Professional discourse, Market discourse and Community discourse The principle of self determination poses many challenges in being operationalised in the context of social work as not all of the four discourses of human services allow room for or their philosophies contradict the intervention of the concept of self determination.

. Social work in the past has been operationalised by the professional discourse. This discourse supports self determination in the sense that it is a humanistic approach that has faith in the values of humanity, which for self determination means that this discourse believes that if we empower our clients to run their own lives and make their own decisions that they would make positive uplifting choices, however this discourse contradicts itself in regards to its professionalism. The professional – client relationship acknowledges that the professional has skills and expertise that are superior and that are denied to the client, this brings about an inequality of power and “this is disempowering and is contradictory to models of practice that seek to empower people to have control over their own lives and destinies (Liffman 1978, Rees 1991), therefore this discourse contradicts our attempts to be an empowerment based profession. The managerial discourse believes all problems are solved through accountability to management. The managerial discourse classifies all clients as consumers and allows no room for the empowerment of our consumers as it believes the solution lies with management. Self determination believes the solution lies with the empowerment of the client; therefore this discourse is incompatible with the practice of self determination and is in contradiction to the values of social work. The market discourse is also a dominate discourse in service delivery in social work. The market discourse supports client self determination in that it encourages customers to make free and fully informed choices, however this discourse is known to be ineffective and fail to meet the needs of customers. The market discourse also labels our clients as customers or consumers, which means they are a mere service recipient rather than a human being who we can empower to be the pilot of their own life. This discourse also fails to meet the needs of the client self determination theory as it puts little emphasis on the importance of social justice and...
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