Researcher: Professori Kirsi Juhila
Research period and funding: 2006-2007, Academy of Finland (a grant for hiring a senior scientist)
Certain client groups in the welfare state have in recent years begun to be linked with the definition “the most difficult”: the unemployed persons the most difficult to employ, the homeless the most difficult to house, the mental health patients, the substance abusers or young people most difficult to treat. The manner of speech originates with individual, for the cause of the difficulty is located in individual clients, their characteristics or manners of action which are difficult to deal with. In this study the issue is approached from another direction, i.e., as a categorisation constructed in social work practices, which has consequences for the citizens who end up being classified as one of the category of the most difficult cases. The categorisation is not studied as a separate phenomenon, but in relation to the current emphases in the welfare state which call for economic efficiency and individual responsibility. Practices related to the categorisation are studied in two institutions of helping, which are: a supportive housing project for people suffering from mental and substance abuse problems and a supporting centre for homeless women. Both institutions are fairly new and were established to respond to the needs of citizens who appear not to receive help from elsewhere. Although the institutions themselves do not define their clientele as the most difficult cases, it may be thought that their clients have been treated as such by other institutions. The research questions are:
1. How are the elements of control and support visible in the practices of institutions which exist to help those who have been defined as the most difficult cases by the rest of the helping system?
2. Do these institutions also create new categorisations of the most difficult cases, on the basis of which some are excluded from the institutions either at the selection phase or after the beginning of the client career? If so, what is the process like?
The data sets used in the research are natural, i.e., data which have been created in the daily practices of the institutions. The data from the supportive housing project consists of in-house meetings in which workers discuss the institution's operating principles, plan its activity, discuss client selection and assess the situations of current clients. The support centre data consists of a shared workers' diary which has been kept regularly and actively since the beginning of the activity. The diaries describe the daily life at the institution, analyse the situations of clients who live at the centre, and also discuss the meaning and direction of the activity in an overall sense. The methodological framework of the research is ethnomethodology and the research methods to be used are discourse analysis and membership categorization analysis.
The short answer to the first research question is that support and control are intertwined with each other and present in both institutions. Support and control are manifested in particular forms precisely because the institutions are defined as places for "the most difficult clients". As regards support for the clients, the elements of advocacy were emphasised. The professionals look after the welfare rights of their clients vis-à-vis other social and health care services, which do not always pay proper attention to the needs of clients considered difficult. In the daily institutional life, support often merges with control in the name of the clients' best interest, since the clients are considered too weak to assume personal responsibility for their lives. On the other hand, on their "better days" the same clients are seen as being capable of controlling their lives and simply needing support in this from the professionals. As regards the second question, the answer is both negative and positive. In the main, the institutions studied try to hang on to clients who have been defined as difficult elsewhere in the service system; in these places they constitute the "ordinary" client base. Particularly in the supportive housing project it may be seen, however, that during the client selection phase certain clients are weeded out because of "not fitting in ".
Juhila, Kirsi & Raitakari, Suvi (2010) Ethics in Professional Interaction: Justifying the Limits of Helping in a Supported Housing Unit. Ethics and Social Welfare 4(1), 57-71.
Juhila, Kirsi & Hall, Christopher & Raitakari, Suvi (2010) Accounting for Clients' Troublesome Behaviour in a Supporting Housing Unit. Journal of Social Work 10(1), 59-79.
Juhila, Kirsi (2009) From Care to Fellowship and Back. Interpretative Repertoires Used by the Social Welfare Workers when Describing their Relationship with Homeless Women. British Journal of Social Work, 39(1), 128-145.
Juhila, Kirsi (2008) Forms of Advocacy in the Social Welfare Work with Homeless Women. European Journal of Social Work, 11(3), 82-109.
Jokinen, Arja & Juhila, Kirsi (eds.) (2008) Sosiaalityö aikuisten parissa. Tampere: Vastapaino
Jokinen, Arja & Juhila, Kirsi (2008) Jännitteitä ja suuntaviittoja aikuisten sosiaalityössä. In Arja Jokinen & Kirsi Juhila (eds.) Sosiaalityö aikuisten parissa. Tampere: Vastapaino, 282-289.
Juhila, Kirsi (2008) Aikuisten parissa tehtävän sosiaalityön areenat. In Arja Jokinen & Kirsi Juhila (eds.) Sosiaalityö aikuisten parissa. Tampere: Vastapaino, 14-74.
Juhila, Kirsi (2008) Aikuisten parissa tehtävän sosiaalityön yhteiskunnallinen paikka. In Arja Jokinen & Kirsi Juhila (eds.) Sosiaalityö aikuisten parissa. Tampere: Vastapaino, 75-81.
Juhila, Kirsi (2008) Aikuisuus sosiaalityössä. In Arja Jokinen & Kirsi Juhila (eds.) Sosiaalityö aikuisten parissa. Tampere: Vastapaino, 82-109.
Raitakari Suvi & Haahtela, Riikka & Juhila, Kirsi (2007) Alma-yhteisön merkittävyys työntekijöiden itsearvioinnin valossa. Alma-projektin loppuraportti. Tampere: Muotialan asuin- ja toimintakeskus ry.
Juhila, Kirsi (2006) Sosiaalityöntekijöinä ja asiakkaina. Sosiaalityön yhteiskunnalliset tehtävät ja paikat. Tampere: Vastapaino.