Working through Barriers: Shaping Social Workers' Engagement in Policy Practice

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Although social workers' engagement in policy-shaping processes to advance social justice reflects this obligation of the social work profession, many social workers avoid implementing policy practice (PP). Previous studies have identified several barriers limiting social workers' use of this practice. However, how such barriers can be overcome remains under-studied. In this study, we address this lacuna by examining the role of social workers vis-à-vis their engagement in PP, through the theoretical framework of social psychology of organizations, and therein, through ideas concerning open systems and the formation of roles and praxes in organizations. Drawing on twenty-eight in-depth interviews and three focus groups, we demonstrate how social workers underwent a coping and transformation process that increased their engagement in PP. In certain situations, it was the expectations of colleagues and the challenges posed by them that impelled social workers to re-examine their approach to such engagement and enhance it. We show how social workers can overcome barriers and facilitate their involvement in the policy arena, as well as highlight policy-makers' role in shaping social workers' modes of operation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1107-1125
Number of pages19
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved.


  • barriers
  • open systems
  • policy practice
  • role ambiguity
  • role conflict
  • social workers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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