Clinical Social Work Journal

, Volume 43, Issue 3, pp 283–293 | Cite as

Privatization in the Human Services: Implications for Direct Practice

  • Mimi AbramovitzEmail author
  • Jennifer Zelnick
Original Paper


Human service agencies and front line practitioners are well known for the quality of services they provide to individuals, families, and communities. The last three decades of austerity-driven public policies—especially privatization—have restructured the human services in ways that have dramatically affected agencies, practitioners and clients. Yet we know very little about how this policy affects the practice experience of front line workers. Based on a literature review and preliminary qualitative results from a survey of human service workers in the public and non-profits sectors in New York City this paper (1) briefly reviews the functions of the welfare state; (2) depicts three overlapping historical stages of privatization in the human services; (3) describes the operationalization and implementation of privatization on the front lines; (4) explores the impact of privatization on service delivery and direct practice from the perspective of the practitioner; (5) summarizes the implications of this important policy trend for direct practice, the profession, and communities served by social workers; and (6) suggests steps social worker can take to address the sea change in the profession.


Privatization Direct practice New public management Managerialism Human services Social work Social welfare policy 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter CollegeCUNY and The CUNY Graduate CenterNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Touro College Graduate School of Social WorkNew YorkUSA

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