Photo: Monkey Business Images/REX/Shutterstock
Belinda Schwehr, a legal trainer and consultant in adult social care will be speaking on Managing Legal Risk at Community Care Live London 2016 in our mock court.
What is the focus of your session?
I will be running a session on how social work staff, in their day-to-day work, are part of a council’s system for managing legal risk. This will be done through a mixture of a talk and Q&A. I will be looking at the most obvious legal pitfalls to avoid if one is discharging statutory functions such as assessment, care planning, and decision making about budgets. I will go through any recent case law and explain which bits of the old case law from pre-Care Act days are still likely to represent what the courts would say now, if anyone were to challenge a Care Act assessment or package.
Why do you think this topic is important?
Social work staff are often given to understand that budgets must be cut because of cutbacks by central government. This may be true when justifying a less generous package but there is still a legal bottom line. This is underpinned by what are called public law principles, of rationality, legality and fairness. The session will challenge staff and management to consider the extent to which the sector is sleepwalking towards the demise of the notion of professionalism in care management, right at the point when the Care Act is supposed to have ensured that everyone gets a needs-led personalised budget and plan.
What is your favourite thing about working in social care?
I do what I do because of the social work staff I’ve met over 15 years. Most have been interesting, good-hearted people who have been taught great values, only to go out into the statutory sector to find themselves expected to rely on people’s ignorance of their own legal rights, in order to bring the package in on budget. That offends my sense of what law is for. I love the lightbulb moment when staff realise that their professional judgement is actually the legal bottom line for the test of what is defensible. A council that doesn’t bother to keep its staff up to date about the law, won’t have anyone to give any evidence on its behalf, when it is judicially reviewed for thinking that budget shortages are an excuse for not ‘doing’ bits of the Care Act.