Deciding to use the law in social work practice

Braye, Suzy, Preston-Shoot, Michael and Wigley, Veronica (2013) Deciding to use the law in social work practice. Journal of Social Work, 13 (1). pp. 75-95. ISSN 1468-0173

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• Summary: This article reviews evidence on how social workers incorporate legal rules in their decision-making. It draws on a small empirical study in which practitioners shared with each other, in peer interviews, examples of their own casework, followed by individual interviews with a researcher. Taken together, the conversations cast light on the extent to which legal knowledge is foregrounded in practitioners’ accounts of their work.

• Findings: The findings show that references to law are more likely to be implicit than explicit, particularly in adult social care, and that absence of legal references is a striking feature of the social workers’ narratives. The article draws on related literature to interrogate the potential reasons for the relatively low profile of ‘law talk’ and identifies four factors – lack of legal knowledge and confidence, reliance on organizational and procedural approaches, assumptions about the role of law in different service contexts, and individual orientations to practice – as significant factors in determining whether and how legal rules are relied upon. Thus it presents a more nuanced analysis of the relationship between law and practice than has hitherto been available.

• Applications: The findings are significant in casting light on the complex range of factors that present barriers to the robust and consistent implementation of legal rules in social work. They have implications – in particular for the role of organizational management in the audit, development and supervision of practice – that are particularly topical in the context of the work in England of the Social Work Reform Board.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: social work, law, legal rules, peer interviews, social work decision-making
Schools and Departments: School of Education and Social Work > Social Work and Social Care
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology > HV0040 Social service. Social work. Charity organization and practice Including social case work, private and public relief, institutional care, rural social work, work relief
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Depositing User: Cecilia Kimani
Date Deposited: 25 May 2012 09:07
Last Modified: 12 Feb 2013 12:32
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