Structural Barriers



Dr. Weinberg’s question for this pilot study was what impact do structural barriers have on social workers’ practice and do workers perceive the consequences of these impacts as creating ethical dilemmas for them as practitioners?

Theoretical Foundations

A critical theoretical perspective was taken. The analytical framework applied was discourse analysis which includes examination of the relationship between language and cultural, social and historical contexts and the creation of social roles with an emphasis on power relations. 


Qualitative interviews were conducted with four front-line practitioners using a convenience sample. There was one interview for each participant, lasting about 1- 1 ½ hrs, based on a semi-structured interview format. The workers were social workers in a variety of fields of practice in Nova Scotia. They were diverse ethno-racially and in terms of sexual orientation and gender.

Key Findings

we’re under resourced here because … sometimes … we get 2,300 [calls] or so for the year, for this programme


  • wait times,
  • caseload size,
  • eligibility criteria,
  • reduced funding,
  • staff turnover,
  • reduced supervision time,
  • few resources in rural areas.
  • the toxicity of some work environments, and
  • diversity of workers and clients leading to discrimination.

So what I find is that … you can do it and plead ignorance


There was a range in terms of perception of workers’ ability to impact the system and in the power workers felt they wielded.

  • Advocacy was a major tactic.
  • One common theme was that policies and rules are interpretable and that there is room for flexibility.
  • Pleading ignorance was used.
  • Sometimes, framing an issue as very serious got attention.
  • Knowing the system and using it to one’s advantage was an outcome.


In general, being prepared to work hard, “going the extra mile” and not cut corners were necessary components.

Other areas of research:
Ethical Challenges during COVID-19
Processes of Inclusion and Exclusion The Experiences of ‘Minority’ Professionals in Law, Social Work and Academia
Ethics in Social Work Practice
Pregnant with Possibility Reducing ethical trespasses in social work practice with young single mothers.