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The potential "constituency" of a Family Service Agency; -- an interview-survey of new applicants who did not become clients. Vancouver, 1959. Belanger, Kathleen Elizabeth

Abstract

Social workers tend to expect public acceptance of their comparatively recent attainment to professional status. It is possible to suspect, however, that this expectation is based, not on known fact, but on hopeful assumption, and that, in truth, there are many misconceptions, and many anachronistic ideas about social workers and social agencies abroad in the community. In order to test this hypothesis, this study explores a small area of professional social work practise, in an attempt to learn what expectations of service and of social workers new applicants bring to a Family Service Agency and whether these expectations are realistically related, not only to the function of the agency, but to the present-day role of the social worker. The method used was to present, first, a brief statistical analysis of the referral sources. This was followed by personal interviews with a group of new applicants who did not become clients. The interview material was then examined and analyzed by applicant-group. Two main divisions were utilized; first, "Lost Applicants: The Urgent Ones", under which appear "The 'White Heat' of Need", and "Apparent Urgency"; and second, "Lost Applicants: The Doubtful Ones", under which appear "Fluid Expectations", "Social Class Barriers", and "Negative Transference". The study reveals, in a way which tends to complement and confirm the findings of a companion study by E. Mildred Porter, that it is the new applicants for casework service from a Family Service Agency who are becoming the lost clients. This is particularly important because this appears to be a group of applicants who could have received a valid preventive service. Analysis of the interviews reveals a number of serious barriers to communication between new applicants and caseworkers which contributed to the loss of these potential clients. These barriers consisted of misunderstood need, misconceptions of role on the part of both applicants and caseworkers, lack of confidence in social workers as professional people, and negative attitudes toward social workers and "The Welfare" which persist from the past and are no longer valid. The crucial importance of the initial interview with the new applicant is highlighted and a re-assessment of the efficacy of "telephone intake" suggested. It is further suggested that the true urgency of a new applicant's need is difficult to assess and that the approach to the assignment of priorities when there is a waiting list needs to be much more diagnostically oriented and much more attuned to the barriers to communication which can be assumed to exist between new applicant and caseworker. Particularly is this true when consideration is to.be given, to the "new clientele" of social work - that is, the middle class applicant whose steps toward a social agency are fearful and whose expression of need is controlled. The same barriers to communication which exist between new applicant and caseworker can be presumed to exist between social workers and the larger community. This may account, at least in part, for the grave difficulties social work, as a profession, experiences in mass media public relations and "interpretation" in general. This study suggests that the same kind of active, aware attempts to overcome barriers to communication between caseworker and new applicant need to be made between social work and the larger community so that anachronistic attitudes can be modified and an authoritative "public image" of social work achieved.

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