1.6 Reducing risk and minimising harm
Social workers are inevitably in the business of risk management by taking actions to reduce risk and minimise harm (Kemshall, 2013). There may be high expectations of social workers, yet they can only make ‘defensible decisions’, which means ones that can be accounted for, are ethical and made on the best information available at the time.
‘Defensible practice’ is not the same thing as ‘covering your back’ or being ‘defensive’. It is a term which is used to mean that social workers have made critical, reflexive and careful judgements, ‘in particular situations at particular moments in time and with the fully considered evidence of incomplete knowledge so that you can defend and justify your assessments, plans and interventions’ (Cooper, 2011, p. 23).
It is important to note that risk can never be entirely eliminated, but, as Kemshall argues, it can be ‘minimised’, and living with some manageable risk can be an acceptable outcome. While the focus of the work so far has been on child care settings, all practitioners are involved in the assessment of needs and risks.
Social workers often work with people who are experiencing transition. In the next two sections of this course, you will look at two different facets of managing risk and planning support. First, you will explore transitions in children and families work: you will hear about the experiences of young people growing up in care, and of a couple becoming adopters; you will also explore work with young carers. You then go on to look at the experiences of adults moving into residential care and how they can be supported.