Risk has been viewed as a key organising principle within social work practice, which may be used to ration resources, prioritise service provision or to prevent harm. These principles operate within legal and policy boundaries but rely on interpretation by workers, who must decide how to apply them.
This presentation draws on interviews with 31 social workers in England to consider how they assessed and managed risk to adults. Specifically, the presentation identifies how social workers engaged with informal carers (such as family) or formal carers (such as care homes) where concern had been expressed that they were causing risk or harm.
Drawing on work by Horlick-Jones, Dr Jeremy Dixon identifys forms of ‘practical reasoning’ which were employed by social workers when conducting risk work. Several strategies were used by social workers when engaging with carers, often simultaneously.
Workers highlighted their formal powers to safeguard adults at the beginning of investigations, to encourage carers to engage with the safeguarding process. In addition, workers informed carers of law and policy in order to persuade them to become compliant with these. However, several informal strategies were used. Workers provided emotional support to carers in order to prevent risk. They also sought to build shared understanding of carers’ moral duties through individual or group interactions.
Social workers' use of these strategies was influenced by their view of the adequacy of welfare policies within a climate of austerity. The study identifies the need to examine how workers’ perspectives on social justice might affect risk-work.
Dr Jeremy Dixon is a senior lecturer in social work at the University of Bath. He joined the University of Bath after working as a lecturer in social work at the University of the West of England, Bristol.
He qualified as a social worker in 1998 and has worked in a wide variety of mental health settings within both the statutory and voluntary sectors. This included work within community mental health teams, assertive outreach teams, drug and alcohol teams and work within forensic mental health settings. He has a number of research interests in and around the sociology of mental health and illness and the sociology of risk and uncertainty.
Jeremy is a board member of the European Sociological Association’s Research Committee on Risk and Uncertainty and is also a board member of the journal Health, Risk & Society. He is also vice-president of the International Sociological Association’s Research Committee on the Sociology of Mental Health & Illness.