Concept of empowerment in the context of social services
This paper presents the theoretical aspects of the concept of empowerment and presents the empirical results, implying the expression of empowerment at different levels in the context of social services in Lithuania. Empowerment is discussed in several aspects – power relations, empowerment levels, sources of empowerment, empowerment as a professional social work, the strengths perspective, and empowerment criticism. Empirical research was conducted to uncover how social experiences are evaluated from the point of view by different social actors: users and service providers. The empowerment issue relates to the interpretation of power. Power is considered to be the defining element and main construct of the society. Understanding the phenomena of power and empowerment respectively can only be possible by detecting their reflections in macro, mezzo and micro levels. According Foucault, it is important to understand not only how the power occurs, but how the resistance to it is possible. The challenge of resistance to power, according to Foucault, lies in the individual level. So, an individual has ability to not only obey and demonstrate self-disciplined, but also a man is able to liberate his own self. Resistance is possible in the context of everyday life, after
understanding and identifying the hindering powers of social environment, and stopping the reproduction of power relations imposed by authorities and institutions. Power dwells in human relations and subjectivity. Power as such is referred to certain individuals' and organizations' ability to reach their targeted, intended or unintended consequences towards other persons or organizations (Lord, Hutchison, 1993). According to Foucault's perspective, the social worker obtains a "pastoral power" when he begins to perform the roles of care and control, which are designated to him by the laws and the system itself. Seemingly, social work practice is closely linked to the political welfare provisions. The analysis of empowerment is provided in different empowering levels: individual, group, local community, organizational and political. Political empowerment level – development of critical consciousness. Freire (1970) describes a critical awareness as a process through which people gain a better understanding of the social and cultural conditions surrounding their lives. Therefore, knowing that man lives not only in the present but has also his own history, one can not only interpret events, but one can also interpret the interpretations. Service users' experience and knowledge is a source of their own empowerment. The policy of increasing the participation in the system of provision of social services and the system of social welfare, presume a greater activity and involvement of beneficiaries by increasing the users' feedback, the development and management of
individual social services planning, and others. Cochran (1986) believes that people are better than anyone else aware of their own needs, so they can have the power to define and plan social services concerned and act with service providers towards satisfaction of their needs. Beresford and Croft (2001) argues that experiences and knowledge social service users increasingly becomes as a part of social work practices and activities of organizations. Sadan (2004) clearly identifies empowerment as professional work, bearing in mind that the concept of empowerment has been born in the context of professional discourse of social problems. Empowerment as a professional work must be based on values and strive to open a perspective for problem solving built upon opportunities of overcoming the barriers. Empowering social work is possible if the social workers feel enabled. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that good intentions can easily turn into oppressive practices as empowering relationship already is a power relationship, while maintaining tension between obedience and resistance. Sometimes the same experience by some people can be understood as empowerment, while others can perceive it as powerlessness. In fact, that what enables one person, another can receive as an act of weakening one's powers. Therefore, it is important to understand user's empowerment in the context of social interactions using a person-in-environment approach. Empirical results of the study are partially presented. The study, during which the respondents for all over Lithuania were interviewed (567 respondents), including 303 service providers and 264 recipients. The study was designed to reveal how different actors participating in social services organization and delivery (users and providers) evaluate the provision of services in micro, mezzo and macro levels. The findings suggest that social service recipients and providers are critical of the current state of social services and express the expectation of receiving a type of mixed social services.