Participation and power in care: exploring the “client” in client engagement


Despite growing recognition in health and care services of the necessity for client engagement, it is still not easily put into practice. This is owing to a range of factors relating to participating staff and clients, as well as the broader institutional context. One of the central factors affecting client engagement is the challenge it poses to traditional power relations inherent in care relationships and contexts. This is particularly the case in aged care services, which have traditionally positioned older adults in passive roles as “recipients” of care, or as lacking capacity to participate in care decision making. This paper presents an exploration of client engagement practices within a large aged care service provider in Australia. Interviews and focus group discussions with clients and staff were analysed for the ways in which clients were positioned – by both themselves and by staff – in terms of the roles that they hold within engagement practices. Four positions were identified: “Passivity, disempowerment and bestowal of power”, “Role of expert/consumer”, “Resistance, compliance and manageability”, and “Complexity, diversity and uniqueness”. While clients were positioned at times in empowering roles, they were simultaneously limited by personal, relational, or organisational constraints, making opportunities for client engagement provisional. This reflects a tension between passive and empowered client roles in the context of aged care provision

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This paper was published in University of Queensland eSpace.

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