Social Workers Reflecting on The Intersecting Realities Within Transformative Neoliberal New Managerial Agenda

Date: November 22, 2023 |


This month Prof Tanusha Raniga hosted a Social Work networking event titled Social Workers Reflecting on The Intersecting Realities Within Transformative Neoliberal New Managerial Agenda. The event was a chance for social workers to reconnect after Covid-19 and is the start of a series of future connections. At the event, Dr Velo Govender – Prof Raniga’s doctoral graduate – presented her PhD findings about the consequences of neoliberalism and new managerial practices in the child welfare sector. Dr Leandi Erasmus also presented findings from her PhD titled A Transformative Developmental Social Work Curriculum.

“What always strikes me is the insight and the way of working that social workers bring to the table. There is an implicit understanding of the links between the challenges that people face in their personal lives and how society shapes that. There’s a deep ethic of care towards people and there’s a way of engaging with people in communities that social workers just have deep within them.” – Prof Lauren Graham, CSDA Director

Dr Velo Govender is a private practice individual and family therapist and chairperson for the Ubuntu Community Chest. She presented her PhD research titled Neoliberalism, New Managerialism and Social Work Practice: Perspectives of Child Welfare Social Work Managers and Practitioners.

Dr Velo Govender

The study reveals that South African Child Welfare organizations face challenges due to new managerial practices, affecting relationships among boards, social work managers, and practitioners. Similar tensions exist between government social workers and those in child welfare. Despite social workers’ dedication to positive initiatives for the vulnerable, challenges persist due to contextual and national factors in the neoliberal work environment. The impact of neoliberalism and marketization is seen in strained organizational relationships, undermining social work’s commitment to equality. Limited budgets and resources leave social workers feeling discouraged and helpless in meeting clients’ needs, often unnoticed by management. The study suggests a collective effort from social work professionals to advocate for policy changes and challenge oppressive systems through connections with social work associations.

You can view Dr Govender’s presentation here.

Dr Leandi Erasmus is a Post Doctoral Research Fellow at the CSDA, she also runs a private psychosocial clinical practice. Her study found that transformative developmental social work, rooted in social development theory, emerges as a preferred approach for social work practice in Global South nations, empowering practitioners to contribute to social justice in societies grappling with inequality.

Despite efforts to incorporate developmental social work into South Africa’s social welfare policies, a knowledge gap remains, making it challenging for social workers to apply theory in real-world situations, especially in Global South contexts. Therefore, South Africa needs a tailored social development training and practice that considers its unique socio-political, cultural, and economic environment. To address this, the study aimed to create an undergraduate curriculum focused on transformative developmental social work. The process involved a thorough multi-method and multi-phased approach, including a review of current social development teaching, a quantitative study with recent graduates, and a qualitative study with young South Africans sharing their social justice experiences. Input from social work teaching experts using the Delphi Technique validated the curriculum, resulting in a comprehensive transformative developmental social work training program for undergraduate students.

View Dr Erasmus’ presentation here.

Dr Leandi Erasmus

Fazeela Fayers is a former practising social worker of 10 years in child welfare and labour organiser who works across sectors such as public health. She spoke about the role of everyone as the collective, in transforming social work and made some recommendations going forward:

View Fazeela’s full presentation here.

The presentations at the event raised consciousness and challenged people’s thinking and collective action. Next on the agenda was what to do from here and how to create a collective action. Dr Jessie Turton and Prof Linda Harms Smith are the founding members of the Social Work Action Network (SWAN) South Africa. SWAN is a radical, campaigning organisation of social work and social care practitioners, students, service users, carers and academics. They spoke about its ethos and led a discussion on how to transform the social work sector in South Africa.

The aims of SWAN are:

  1. To promote a model of social work practice which is rooted in the value of social justice, which seeks to advocate alongside, and on behalf of, carers and service users and which values both individual relationship-based practice and also collective approaches.
  2. To challenge the domination of social work and social care services by managerialist perspectives and practices which prioritise budgets, targets and outcomes over the needs of the people who use these services.

It does this by bringing together practitioners, students, carers, service users and academics through regular conferences and campaigning activities in support of the above objectives.

They appealed to all in attendance to join this movement and many have since joined the SWAN SA WhatsApp group.

You can view the full presentation here and read more about this movement here. If you are interested in joining the WhatsApp group to add your contributions and join the movement here is the link.

From the left: Dr Jessie Turton, Prof Tanusha Raniga, Dr Velo Govender, Prof Linda Harms Smith

Social workers attending the networking event: Social Workers Reflecting on The Intersecting Realities Within Transformative Neoliberal New Managerial Agenda.

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