Risk Assessment in Social Care and Social Work: Theory and Practice (Research Highlights)

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The work is high stakes because decisions can gravely affect family life and the human rights of its members Stanley, Stanley, T. Health Risk and Society , 15 1 , 67 — Social work, class politics and risk in the moral panic over Baby P. Risk, time and reason. Some decisions in social work are straightforward—there is little doubt or uncertainty about whether a child with injuries inflicted by a parent or guardian requires state intervention. Sociology Health Illness , 39 8 , — Childhood radicalisation risk: An emerging practice issue. Practice: Social Work in Action , 27 5 , — However, the experiences and practices of the social workers involved in this type of risk work have not been explored through systematic research.

In this practice informed editorial, I draw on emerging theories about what risk work is to help make sense of and guide developments in this emerging area of practice. Social workers act on behalf of the state where the rights of children and vulnerable adults to be free from harm and abuse are enshrined in convention and law.

Risk assessing in social work

Understandably, the language of risk is readily drawn on as a practical tool to define, classify and decide a course of action to protect children from danger and harm. The work actually starts elsewhere, because someone else has already identified possible concerns for a child.

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Towards a sociology of risk work: A narrative review and synthesis. Sociology Compass , 10, — Consequently, in the context of social work, risk work is an important component of everyday practice by social workers. Social work: The organisation of an invisible trade Avebury: Aldershot. Risk has taken a discursive hold in statutory social work Stanley, Stanley, T. This discursive hold affects and shapes practice and influences social work decision making in terms of power and ethics.

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The problem for social workers is that recent policy and practice communications about risk tend to reinforce a rather individualised thinking about available options for children reported to them Stanley, Stanley, T. In an everyday practical sense, the rights of the child are always promoted over the balance of child and family rights, reinforcing a focus on the child as individual rights holder. The problem for families is that they are often left out of the professional meetings and discussions where important decisions are made.

This has had a deep impact on the work because it sets up new ways to think about and deliver social work Warner, Warner, J. Inquiry reports as active texts and their function in relation to professional practice in mental health. Workers are not immune to reports of tragic events where people have been killed and injured in the name of radical organisations such as Daesh or Islamic State.

Trust as a means of bridging the management of risk and the meeting of need: A case study in mental health service provision. Social Policy and Administration , 47 3 , — Health, Risk and Society , 19 3—4 , — Traffic risk work with sleepy patients: From rationality to practice.

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Decisions about risk therefore offer legitimacy for action, even before an event takes place. For workers this means being concerned about what might happen; nevertheless having to intervene now on the basis of uncertain futures. A case involving a young pregnant woman who was detained under Terrorist legislation illustrates this point.

Professionals involved in the case argued that the unborn baby should be removed at birth, to protect from further radicalisation. Cases like this evoke heightened emotions for social workers, and to date we have lacked effective ethical and rights-oriented tools with which to reflect on and orient our practice Stanley, Suru and Gupta, Stanley, T.

Practice: Social Work in Action , 30 1 , — Decisions to remove a child need to be legitimised.

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Risk discourses are a readymade tool to sway and influence others but need to be considered reflexively. This produces significant practice and ethical tensions, as the shift towards pre-emptive strategies that aim to identify threats has adjusted the working relationships between families and statutory social workers.

Social work and social justice: A relationship at a cross-roads? What is potentially a terrorist event tomorrow becomes something that concerns social workers today and this shifts attention from what might be, to what is needed to be done immediately Heath-Kelly, Heath-Kelly, C. Moreover, State intervention is legitimised via reified concerns about risk; reports about radicalisation risk are recast as legitimate social work problems Stanley, Stanley, T.

Social workers are now caught between a professional mission of promoting human rights and social justice, and being agents of a surveillance state. To date this area of practice or its impact on social worker experiences has attracted little empirical research see Chivers, Chivers. What is the headspace they are in when they are making those referrals? Under Siege: Families of counter-terrorism.

British Journal of Social Work , 42 6 , — The local prevention of terrorism: Strategy and practice in the fight against terrorism. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Risk work theory helps us ask questions that get to the heart of why dealing with risk of radicalisation is so challenging within social work practice, in terms of the knowledge base of risk, the nature of the interventions, and the relationships between social workers and children and their families Gale et al.

Taking a closer look at the risk work literature is therefore helpful for reflecting on our work and practice Horlick-Jones, Horlick-Jones, T. On risk work: Professional discourse and everyday action. Health Risk and Society , 7 3 , — This effectively depoliticises the radicalisation process and embeds the securitisation agenda within existing processes for safeguarding vulnerable individuals. Thus risk is presented in reified terms as something calculable and manageable.

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The most common example offered is the young person, alone in their bedroom, being radicalised online. We do not need evidence of activity; just suspicion that activity or beliefs today correlate with new terrorism tomorrow. The reality is far from this, with terrorism risk being very uncertain and difficult to predict. Government, H. Prevent strategy.


The idea of no ungoverned spaces shifts the focus even further for social work towards risk thinking and the centrality of working in a pre-crime non-statutory space. This has profound implications for the nature of social work and the experiences of social workers. The state and family interface is the working arena for social work practice.

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The duty has recast this relationship, to one now enforcing a legitimate activity to be involved in pre-emptive terms. The e-mail addresses that you supply to use this service will not be used for any other purpose without your consent. Create a link to share a read only version of this article with your colleagues and friends. Please read and accept the terms and conditions and check the box to generate a sharing link.

This article is a reflective piece in which I account for how and why I have developed my current understanding of the relevance of epistemology to practice, to social work research and to the relationship between the two. Social work as a profession has itself faced something of an epistemological crisis of late, which has impacted on both practice and research in ways which have not necessarily been beneficial. I will draw my own practice and reseach to highlight the twists and turns in the development of my thinking about these issues and as a corollary, my views regarding the bridging role that pragmatic epistemology might play between research and practice.

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