Recognising strategy and tactics in constructing and working with involuntary social work clients

Mark Smith (Lead / Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
162 Downloads (Pure)


This paper reports on the author’s academic work on working with involuntary clients, which began with a knowledge exchange project in Scotland. I reflect back on this work and use it as a way to explore subsequent reflections on the field. These move beyond consideration of the skills required to undertake such work through locating the category of involuntary clients within wider, yet contradictory, governmental discourses on client engagement. These are identified as the strategy that sets the context for such work. But the strategy is enacted through the day-to-day tactics of social workers on the ground; such tactics, enacted in everyday encounters, are constitutive of effective but also ineffective engagement with clients. The discussion goes on to problematise the distinction between voluntary and involuntary clients and to suggest that effective social work practice, whatever the nature of that involvement, requires that clients are recognised at an ethical and relational level. IMPLICATIONS The term involuntary client(s) cannot be taken for granted but is constructed and needs to be understood in particular and often contradictory policy and professional contexts. Effective but also ineffective ways of working with involuntary clients go beyond the acquisition or demonstration of particular skills but are embodied in the everyday relational practices of social workers. Ethical engagement with involuntary clients proceeds from a sense of mutual recognition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)321-333
Number of pages13
JournalAustralian Social Work
Issue number3
Early online date20 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jul 2020


  • Involuntary clients
  • engagement
  • user involvement
  • strategy
  • tactics
  • everyday
  • recognition
  • Tactics
  • Everyday
  • Involuntary Clients
  • Engagement
  • User Involvement
  • Strategy
  • Recognition


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