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How Social Workers Assess and Manage Risk and Uncertainty
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Chapters 1, 3 and 5 available Open Access under CC-BY-NC-ND license.

Safeguarding adults at risk of abuse or neglect is a core area of social work practice but knowledge of how social workers make adult safeguarding decisions is limited.

Applying recent sociological and ethnographic research to this area for the first time, this book considers how adult safeguarding practice is developing, with a focus on risk management. The author explores how social workers conduct safeguarding adults assessments, work with multiple agencies and involve service users in risk decisions. The book is essential reading for those wishing to understand how risk and uncertainty are managed within frontline adult social work and how current practice can be improved.

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This chapter concludes by identifying how the findings relate to previous academic work on social work and risk. The chapter revisits some of the key arguments about social work and risk and uses the framework of risk work to give a more nuanced account of how risk knowledge, interventions and social relations affect adult safeguarding practice. The chapter ends by setting out policy and practice recommendations.

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This chapter provides social workers’ accounts of doing adult safeguarding work with service users, family carers and paid carers. It highlights social workers’ understanding and use of risk assessment tools and shows how these were used to document who should take responsibility for measuring and monitoring risks. Social workers indicated the need to ensure service users’ immediate safety when doing adult safeguarding work. They also highlighted difficulties with engaging service users in safeguarding work and conducting this work in the time available. Key aspects of working with service users are highlighted, including explaining adult safeguarding, enabling risk taking, assessing what is important to the person and educating the person about abuse and neglect. Approaches to family carers are described, with social workers emphasising supportive or assertive approaches. Finally, the chapter focuses on how social workers engaged with paid carers in the community or in care homes, showing that safeguarding approaches were predominantly enforced through compliance with paperwork.

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This chapter sets out the case for exploring how social workers understand and manage risk and uncertainty when doing adult safeguarding work. It provides a brief overview of safeguarding duties under the Care Act 2014 and related policy, and explains how the Mental Capacity Act 2005 is relevant. The chapter also describes the ethnographic research methods used in the study and provides details about the social workers and local authorities taking part in the research.

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This chapter builds on the findings from Chapter 3, which established that new legal criteria under the Care Act 2014 and related policies were used as the central source of risk knowledge. It highlights the tensions which emerged when social workers attempted to apply this knowledge in practice. Austerity policies were seen as an impediment to safeguarding services being delivered well. The chapter highlights social workers’ views that safeguarding had become ‘the last stop’ and that blockages within local authorities reduced the efficiency of services. It also shows that social relations with other professionals were limited in the context of austerity and that safeguarding principles were reframed by social workers to provide a safeguarding service within funding constraints.

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This chapter considers how adult safeguarding has come to be viewed as an issue needing a policy response. Drawing on theory from social policy, the chapter shows how, over recent decades, adult abuse and neglect have come to be viewed as a social problem. Beginning in the 1960s, the chapter charts campaigns by members of the public and professional groups and explains how current safeguarding laws and policies in England evolved.

Open access
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This chapter reports on how referrals and assessments were managed by social workers in the three local authorities in the study. It identifies how new legal criteria under the Care Act 2014 and related policies were used as the central source of risk knowledge. The chapter also describes the two intervention models used by the local authorities. The use of information and communications technology is discussed, highlighting that these systems were used both to retrieve risk knowledge and to organise interventions. The chapter also shows that where tensions between professional values existed, professional discretion and team culture were used to supplement or override existing systems. Finally, the chapter shows how social relations between social workers and other professional groups were managed when conducting safeguarding enquiries. It highlights a dominant concern among social workers about ‘inappropriate referrals’ and reports a divergence of opinion as to whether local authorities should be encouraging or discouraging other agencies to make safeguarding referrals.

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This chapter introduces sociological theories of risk and uncertainty. It sets out Beck’s theory of risk society as well as the literature on governmentality, cultural theories of risk, and risk work. Key themes around risk and uncertainty from the social work literature are also introduced. Using the framework of risk work, the chapter reviews what current research tells us about how social workers manage risk and uncertainty.

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The context of online safety, and its policy evolution, has been dominated by protecting children and young people in online spaces. The statutory focus, such as the UK government’s Online Safety Bill, continues with an approach that looks towards prohibition, rather than empowerment, while ignoring an evidence base that calls for inclusive approaches. Reflecting upon the impact of this policy direction related to adults, the risks associated with being online, for example grooming and exploitation (both sexual and financial), are poorly understood in multi-agency perspectives and are in conflict with the needs of individuals who might be at risk of harm online. With little formal training in adult safeguarding practice, and a dearth of research around adult online safety, professional practice falls back, instead, on personal experience, and biases arise from personal use of technology, which presents challenges to effective and consistent support of adults at risk.

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We introduce the broad topic of online safeguarding and highlight the challenges of applying such approach to individual cases affecting adults who are potentially vulnerable as a result of brain injuries or other capacity issues. We argue that the narrative needs to be moved from prohibition underpinned by children’s online safeguarding to truly apply best interests in each case, considering individual needs, as well as a need to develop the knowledge of the workforce from anecdotal to professional

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