British Journal of Social Work, vol. 41, 2011, p. 1514-1531
A comprehensive critique of the politics of neoliberal governance of the social services sector identifies that risk has replaced need as the focus of social and economic policies and, accordingly, social control and regulation have overtaken former government commitments to social care. In this context practitioners and social service users keenly experience the personalisation of risk as the neoliberal ethics of prudentialism, responsibilisation and accountability permeate policy, service delivery systems and practice. This climate evokes despondency and despair among social workers. However the Australian social workers who participated in this study made a conscious decision to seek to be 'other-focused' when faced with the dilemma of whether to respond to their clients' or their own sense of being 'at risk' within their respective practice contexts. The significance of these findings is that they reinstate social workers as active and purposive, as opposed to powerless and despondent, moral agents in the complex and fraught domains in which they respond to the ubiquitous presence of risk.