Social Workers as Local Human Rights Actors?

Authors Alicia Dibbets, Quirine Eijkman, Majda Lamkaddem, Dorien Claessen
Published in Journal of Human Rights Practice
Publication date February 2021
Type Article


The realization of human rights standards depends in part on the commitment of local actors. It can be argued that local public service professionals such as social workers can also be regarded as key players. The possible role of social workers becomes imperative if these professionals are working in a policy context that is not congruent with human rights. If existing laws or policies cause or maintain disrespect for human rights, social workers are in a position to observe that this is having an adverse impact on clients. When social workers are regarded as human rights actors, the question arises how they can or should respond to law and policy that impedes them in carrying out their work with respect for human rights. This article adds to existing theories on social workers as human rights actors by examining the practices of social professionals working in such a challenging policy context. The research took place among professionals in social district teams in the city of Utrecht, the Netherlands. Following a series of decentralizations and austerity measures the social care landscape in the Netherlands has changed drastically over the last few years. As a result, social workers may find themselves on the one hand trying to realize the best possible care for their clients while on the other hand dealing with new laws and policy expectations focused on self-reliance and diminished access to specialist care. The article explores how social professionals’ responses to barriers in access to care affect human rights requirements. In doing so, this socio-legal study provides insight into the ways in which everyday social work relates to the realization of human rights at the local level.

On this publication contributed

Language English
Published in Journal of Human Rights Practice
Year and volume 13 1
Key words local human rights, social professionals, access to care
Digital Object Identifier 10.1093/jhuman/huab013
Page range 105-123