Talking about humiliation in social work is only interesting when looking at the impact on the families as well as the work and communication.
Why does humiliation cause so much damage? Should families not be grateful for whatever they can get, whether it be practical help or economic support?
Obviously I do not think so. It is a much bigger discussion which I will probably address more than once in the lifetime of this blog, but I do not believe anybody should negotiate their dignity because they have come to depend on others.
So, humiliation in social work is viewed from the point that all people are of equal importance. Bad luck, life or happenstance just got in the way.
The reason for humiliation to be such a big issue in social work is partially the same as in other areas of life. Generally, if people are treated with respect, they will respond in a similar manner.
However, the humiliation in a family of special needs children is also of a different nature. To be stripped of dignity and respect because of some chance occurrence in their lives is a lot different from being stigmatised for being of a different race or religion. They have neither the security of identity from growing up with like-minded peers, they have no idea how to navigate in this new life and no one to guide them whilst being at risk of losing everything else their old life entailed; income, friends, status, leisure time, health etc.
They turn for help, knowing there is help to receive, and face humiliation on top of everything else.
This is why the impact of humiliation is so huge. In face of all the other monumental psychological challenges, they also face disapproval, distrust and guilt placement in meeting the public aid system and the social workers meant to help. They become humiliated for something they have no control over, for something they cannot change and/or have the expertise nor the means to face on their own. Something has crash-landed their entire life. Their special needs child. And to top everything off, most struggle with their personal guilt.
So what happens?
Some break. They give up their child to permanent care, which can certainly be the right decision in some cases, but should never be forced because the parents have had their spirit broken.
Some check out of the system. Leaving the child without proper care and equipment. While understandable it is sad that these children will live their lives without help.
Most probably try to keep going. The psychological strain is embedded in them and lead to numerous health issues, some caused by stress i.e. depression and anxiety disorders, others by wear and tear such as arthritis, weight issues and early aging. They often face divorce, dysfunctional siblings, isolation and stagnation. While I suppose most people can get by like that it is not a dignified life. And the cost to the family and eventually society is great.
The ones who keep going eventually find themselves somewhat (or very) bitter, always in defense, always ready for the next blow or humiliation. The communication becomes strained and chopped and not much is achieved. In return, the social workers might find themselves swamped with complaints, which in increasing their work loads and generally setting a bad mood eventually leads the social worker to meet the next family with distrust and disapproval.
Indeed one of lifes vicious circles – but one that needs to be broken by the professionals.