What Happens to ‘Big Ideas’ at the Front Line of Human Services : The Case of Service User Rights

Crane, Phil R. (2003). What Happens to ‘Big Ideas’ at the Front Line of Human Services : The Case of Service User Rights PhD Thesis, School of Social Work and Applied Human Sciences, The University of Queensland.

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Author Crane, Phil R.
Thesis Title What Happens to ‘Big Ideas’ at the Front Line of Human Services : The Case of Service User Rights
School, Centre or Institute School of Social Work and Applied Human Sciences
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2003-11
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Andrew Jones
McDonald, Catherine
Collection year 2004
Language eng
Subjects 370000 Studies in Human Society
Formatted abstract This thesis examines how policy promoted as benefiting the users of human services
can fail if it does not appreciate the front-line contexts its implementation depends on.
The specific concern is how front-line practitioners in non-profit human services
understood and responded to the application of service user rights policies to their
practice settings.

The study begins with the Hawke–Keating period of government, and ends in the
late 1990s. During the Hawke–Keating period service user rights policies were
explicitly incorporated into a range of Commonwealth human service programs as
one manifestation of the new program management (NPM) approach to accountability
and control.

Four Australian human service programs were sampled: the Supported
Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP), the Home and Community Care
Program (HACC), Adolescent Mediation and Family Therapy services (AMFT), and
the Youth Homeless Pilot Programme (YHPP). Services from each program in
Melbourne, Wollongong, Darwin and the Gold Coast were studied. Forwards and
backwards mapping were used to examine the nexus between policy as intended, and
policy as understood by those undertaking direct service delivery with young people.
The place ‘rights-talk’ had in the practice framework of these front-line
practitioners was examined and compared with the espoused policy positions of the
programs and the funded services they worked within. The various factors
conditioning the workers’ approach to the service user rights aspects of practice were
identified. The thesis concludes that front-line human service workers, whose practice
is highly contextualised, thwart human service program design unless this design
reflects the model of service delivery. Front-line bureaucracy theory was found to

The study details the tension between the various contexts of front-line practice
and the service user rights policy framework. The level of connection with people and
social institutions in the life situation of the young service user, combined with the
extent to which the mandated model of service delivery was flexible or prescribed,
were found to influence front-line practitioners’ approach to service user rights.The emergence and later failure of service user rights program logic to take hold
was found to be a manifestation of the de-institutionalisation of non-profit
organisations as they were required to re-orient the basis of their legitimacy to new
public management ideals.

The significance of the thesis lies in its contribution to understanding the nexus
between human service policy and front-line practice. More specifically, it assists in
theory development about the relationship between emergent ideas about human service delivery and the contexts of their implementation.

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