Institutionalised or Deinstitutionalised? (A Paradigm Shift to Practice in Social Workers' Views)

Author: Nismah Qonitah

Qonitah, Nismah, 2018 Institutionalised or Deinstitutionalised? (A Paradigm Shift to Practice in Social Workers' Views), Flinders University, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work

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Studies following the rapid assessment post-Aceh tsunami in 2004 estimated more than 500,000 children living in institutions across Indonesia, primarily due to poverty. Humanitarian organisations raised concerns regarding the quality of children’s care, urging the Indonesian government to review its child welfare system. Known as the shifting paradigm in terms of child welfare, donors and government worked together to reduce institutional reliance and improve children’s care. Deinstitutionalisation, integrative service delivery and home-like care, and discouraging institutionalisation of children because of poverty, were promoted as critical contexts for social work practice.

This thesis examines social work in institutional care and the workers’ perceptions of the shifting paradigm, as they work at the front line of residential care setting. This includes understanding their experiences of the change; this being in the midst of broader government system reforms. Twenty social workers from six provinces in Indonesia were interviewed. A phenomenological approach was taken with the collection and interpretation of the social workers’ perceptions of the changes to policy and practice informing residential child care. Along with this, an ecological approach allowed analysis of relationship dynamics between system units across the social workers’ systems, from microsystem to macrosystem, and how that may have influenced their perceptions of the paradigm shift.

Regarding the social worker’s training experiences of child welfare system reform, and knowledge on the children’s rights to grow and develop in their families and communities, findings indicated that they did not favour changes promoting deinstitutionalisation and criteria discouraging institutional care on the basis of poverty. The families’ limited access to income, lack of infrastructure, sustained perceptions that poverty equated with child neglect, and cultural practices hindered the shifting paradigm under study.

This thesis considers social workers’ perception of their role transformation in the context of the system in which they operate and the cultural perspectives that also confine their practice. Some of the social workers have embraced changes and worked towards improvements to the welfare of institutionalised children. However, ending overreliance on institutional care due to economic difficulties has not been achieved. Ecological mapping of the research data enabled diagrammatical representation of systemic challenges for social workers in children’s institutions. The decentralised government, issues with regional justice, implementation of policy and new ways of working for social workers at the front line, as well as competing social, cultural and governance systems appear to have influenced the social workers experiences and perceptions of the paradigm shift. The public mindset has either not understood or resisted the paradigm change. In terms of capacity building support, the various trainings on child issues lacked monitoring and evaluation system, indicating the government’s little consideration of system’s readiness. The difficulties of social workers in conceptualising practices without institution’s involvement gauged the need of training improvement. Findings highlight the importance of expanding the government supports, including developing remuneration system as a part of social workers’ empowerment, and innovations of social work trainings and practice indigenisation. These would potentially enhance the sustainable change agendas and the advancement of children’s rights.

Keywords: paradigm shift, deinstitutionalisation, social workers, residential child care, child care institution, alternative care, ecological perspective

Subject: Social Work thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2018
School: College of Education, Psychology and Social Work
Supervisor: Dr. Helen McLaren