Quality in practice… the latest guidance on decision-making

quality in practice... the latest guidance on DECISION-MAKING Social workers are under intense scrutiny like never before. Brian Taylor offers some...

Quality in practice… the latest guidance on decision-making

Social workers are under intense scrutiny like never before. Brian Taylor offers some tips to cover all bases


Society rightly demands accountability for decisions that have serious consequences for people’s lives. However, the blame culture in which we have to work does not foster good decision-making. It is essential that the social work profession takes the initiative in clarifying what it can and cannot do in terms of trying to predict and prevent harm by one citizen to another – whether abuse of a child or vulnerable adult, homicide or crime – or self-harm.

Capacity or safeguarding?

Social workers are responsible for ensuring that an individual has the capacity to consent to whatever treatment or care they are proposing or recommending, unless society has given them a safeguarding mandate in the circumstances of the case.

Supporting client decision-making

Social workers can support clients by helping them to envisage the future, which may involve helping them to clarify their values and their life goals, assisting in tactics to engage in formal decision processes, and challenging them to consider the implications of their proposed decisions for their life roles.

Safeguarding thresholds

Where you may have a mandate to undertake a safeguarding role ensure you are clear what the criteria or thresholds are for justifying compulsory intervention. Understand the risk factors that assist in predicting harm in your field of social work, but explain the limitations of trying to predict the future behaviour of an individual.

Role clarity in collaborative decision-making

In collaborative decision-making with other professions, be clear what lies within the competence of social work and what does not. Respect the competence of other professionals, although you may have to challenge or question opinions on occasions to clarify issues.

Explicit balancing of ­benefits and harms

If you are involved in balancing benefits and harms, for example in choosing between options for a care (or safeguarding) plan, ensure that as far as possible you have an explicit discussion with the client or family about the value that they place on each option and about the prospects for success or harm ensuing.

Reasonable and reasoned decision processes

Ensure that decisions are ­reasoned and reasonable. Ensure that records are made at the time of the context of the decision (such as limits to the range of options and staff ­shortages in the team) and the decision-making process, as well as the outcome, if you think that the decision may be contentious.


Further information

These points are taken from Professional Decision Making in Social Work Practice, by Brian Taylor, senior lecturer in social work at the University of Ulster. The book is published as part of the Post Qualifying Series by Learning Matters

This article is published in the 3 June issue of Community Care magazine under the heading Pressure’s on to make the right decision

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.