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Family Matters No. 47 - June 1997

Human services: changing language - changing concepts?

Harry McGurk

Abstract

What was previously known as child care is often now referred to by policy makers and service providers as the child care industry. The author questions whether this change reflects fluctuation in linguistic fashion or is it an example of the power of language to shape the way people think about social issues. Speaking about an activity as a service gives primacy to the needs and interests of the client group for whom the service has been developed and to the role of the service in meeting those needs and serving those interests. Labelling the same activities as an industry seems to shift the focus away from the needs and interests of clients, towards the economic aims of the activities and on the principles and processes which are elaborated in the service of these aims. The purpose of this article is to raise questions about the degree to which the best interests of the client group may be compromised by the adoption of an industrial or commercial orientation to service provision.

What was previously known as child care is often now referred to by policy makers and service providers as the child care industry. The author questions whether this change reflects fluctuation in linguistic fashion or is it an example of the power of language to shape the way people think about social issues. Speaking about an activity as a service gives primacy to the needs and interests of the client group for whom the service has been developed and to the role of the service in meeting those needs and serving those interests. Labelling the same activities as an industry seems to shift the focus away from the needs and interests of clients, towards the economic aims of the activities and on the principles and processes which are elaborated in the service of these aims. The purpose of this article is to raise questions about the degree to which the best interests of the client group may be compromised by the adoption of an industrial or commercial orientation to service provision.

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