Peter J.F. Harris | Endeavour
Social workers are often depicted as street-level bureaucrats (SLBs) or professionals interchangeably. However, to find out how social workers relate to new policy measures, a clear distinction between SLBs and professionals is helpful. Ideal–typical SLBs subscribe to new policies although they may diverge from them in practice, to accommodate clients. Ideal–typical professionals weigh new policies against their ethical code. If the new policy goes against their professional principles, they protest on behalf of their clients. In this article, we study Dutch social workers who have to implement a new policy that (i) obliges their clients to actively participate in society and (ii) obliges them to rely on family and friends when they need help. The data for this article are derived from two projects: interviews with twenty-nine experienced social workers and interviews with social workers in neighbourhood teams and observations of their interactions with clients in six municipalities. We found that Dutch social workers think as professionals: they weigh the new policy against their ethical code and have serious doubts about the second part of the new policy. Hence, they find ways to avoid implementation. However, they behave as SLBs, bending the rules in practice. They rarely confront policymakers or higher management.