At the forthcoming Annual Conference of the European Association for Social Work Research (Amsterdam, 6-8 April), Paolo Boccagni will give a presentation on Social work as “housekeeping”? Meanings and dilemmas of the caseworker-client relationship in asylum seekers’ reception. See the abstract of Paolo’s presentation below

Session 10 – Working with the right to asylum (Thursday April 7, 13.30-15)

Social work as “housekeeping”? Meanings and dilemmas of the caseworker-client relationship in asylum seekers’ reception
Paolo Boccagni

Refugee reception and inclusion in Italy have recently been subject to major retrenchments. This affects the mandate and everyday practice of case workers in asylum facilities, as an instance of tensions that cut across social work with migrants and refugees. Based on a four-year ethnography in an asylum centre in Northern Italy, I unpack the salient features and dilemmas of the caseworker-client relation along multiple axes. This has implications at policy and organizational level, no less than in the training, selection and empowerment of social workers. 

My study of the dwelling experience of young male residents has entailed, over time, systematic interactions with their indoor counterparts – the caseworkers in charge to run the centre and facilitate “appropriate” behaviours of their temporary guests. As my study shows, the tensions inherent in the caseworker role have not to do only with well-known dilemmas between care and control. More fundamentally, their everyday interactions with clients are played all along the continuum between opposite stances: narrowing the focus on their compliance with formal rules, vs enlarging it on their chances for local inclusion; approaching the centre as an institution in itself, vs reworking it as a potential node in broader support networks; sticking to one’s pragmatic and rather minimal mandate, vs probing the scope for more inclusive and personalized practice, given the attendant disincentives and costs. In sum, is social work, here, a matter of “housekeeping” or “societal inclusion”? What factors and conditions account for either outcome and its societal aftermath?