From social contract to the market of social services: routes and resources for social work professionalization
Social work, which emerged in Russia in 1991, is becoming a profession through contradictory steps and under multiple national and international influences and expectations. Recent reforms in social service legislation suggests greater emphasis on civil sector participation in service provision. Smaller and more flexible than state organizations, NGOs could deliver services more in keeping with international norms, for example, provide services for elderly people and people with disabilities in the community and less institutionalized settings, meeting conditions of the UN Resolution on Rights of People with Disabilities; they also could establish new outreach services for people who are otherwise left behind social support. It was found that, despite strong central support for the law, implementation of FZ442 met resistance from regional social sector administrators.
De-institutionalization and diversification of Russia’s social sector are progressive, but the real welfare consequences of these reforms will depend on whether the state simply withdraws, or creates, regulates and adequately finances different and more effective services for vulnerable populations. Legislative efforts to improve implementation are ongoing, and the law is providing more space for new possibilities for social workers to develop knowledge and value base, professional identity and status in the changing realities of welfare state and civil society.
The effects of this reform are yet limited. The top-down approach to solving social problems is still in place, so that the state has the main jurisdiction over the new profession, not only providing it with financial and symbolic capital, but also influencing the professional project. However, current reform of the social sector in Russia may foster professionalization process for social work by introducing competition into the social sector. Linking civil society and the state could improve communication, feedback and outcomes of social workers’ efforts. These changes promote re-imagining social work in Russia from ‘social contract’ to the ‘market of services’.