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The context of risk management in mental health social work

Nolan, Deborah and Quinn, Neil (2012) The context of risk management in mental health social work. Practice: Social Work in Action, 24 (3). pp. 175-188. ISSN 0950-3153

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Abstract

Managing risk is a key component of mental health social work practice, with the literature detailing two unique approaches to risk management — the dominant risk minimisation strategies and the less favoured risk-taking approaches. Due to a lack of research it is unclear, however, whether this is a practice reality, how professionals reconcile the tension between the two approaches and practice dilemmas, and the impact of wider factors perceived to influence these decisions. This paper aims to address these questions by drawing on 2010 research that undertook qualitative semi-structured interviews with seven Mental Health Officers in a Scottish local authority. Whilst the study found risk was generally constructed as relating to harm and danger, in practice a more measured approach to risk management was identified, with both approaches being employed, and a new acceptance of risk as potentially positive by organisations and practitioners was recognised. Participants illustrated how decisions are reached, without feeling inhibited by the ‘blame culture’, but clarified that this involved dilemmas and was a fraught area of practice. The paper concludes that more scope for positive risk-taking is desirable and requires the support of the policy context, legislation and organisations.