Journal Article

A Cognitive Mask? Camouflaging Dilemmas in Street-Level Policy Implementation to Safeguard Older People from Abuse

Angie Ash

in The British Journal of Social Work

Published on behalf of British Association of Social Workers

Volume 43, issue 1, pages 99-115
Published in print February 2013 | ISSN: 0045-3102
Published online November 2011 | e-ISSN: 1468-263X | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/bjsw/bcr161
A Cognitive Mask? Camouflaging Dilemmas in Street-Level Policy Implementation to Safeguard Older People from Abuse

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National policy to safeguard older people from abuse in England and Wales gives social services the lead role in co-ordinating local multi-agency adult safeguarding procedures. With the exception of Lipsky's (1980) work on street-level bureaucracy, relatively little research attention has considered the day-to-day reality of social workers charged with implementing public policy. This article reports findings of multi-method research carried out in a social services department in Wales to identify the constraints and realities social workers faced when implementing policy to protect older people from abuse. Data sources were thirty-three social workers and managers and local adult safeguarding documentation and statistics. Methods included semi-structured interviews, focus groups, observed meetings, and documentary and statistical analysis of adult protection activity. The research found the dilemmas social workers grappled with were inherent in the structure of their work, as Lipsky had proposed. Dilemmas included known poor practice and quality in some care services, resource shortfalls and delays in investigating alleged elder abuse. The paper concludes by developing the metaphor of a ‘cognitive mask’ to describe how social workers manage the dissonance arising from dilemmas inherent in the context of their work to safeguard elders and it suggests how this ‘mask’ can be removed.

Keywords: Elder abuse; street-level bureaucracy; challenge of poor practice; quality of care

Journal Article.  6613 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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