How social workers could make more ethical and justifiable decisions for service users

Tony Stanley, Sam Baron and Lyn Romeo show how this can help improve practice decisions and withstand judicial review

Photo: Rido/Fotolia

by Tony Stanley, Sam Baron and Lyn Romeo

A quiet revolution is underway in social work as we return to our core principles and values. Social work is proudly back on the agenda.

Working within a backdrop of harsh criticism and austerity politics we must define and lead our practice agenda if we are to truly deliver on the Care Act (2014).

At the heart of excellent social work is the fundamental principle that care, and human rights are the hallmark of a compassionate society and should be seen as a right rather than evidence of an unhealthy dependency or protracted legal interventions.

So, what can we do? For starters, it is up to organisational and professional leadership to set out our practice stall and define how and why we practice the way we do by understanding the influences that shape everyday decisions. This is important because judicial reviews continue to bring important and expensive challenges to our work.

Judicial reviews (JR) are costly and time-consuming yet cut to the core of testing and challenging decisions made by public bodies. In JR cases a duty of candour and corporation is expected to assist the court in understanding decisions making. Avoiding JR then is sensible but is premised on decision making being rendered clear and understandable.

‘Ethical, reasonable, articulate’

In local authorities the test for judicial review is increasingly being applied to the Care Act when the duty to provide a service is tested and falls somewhat short of clarity and transparency. Hence decision making that is ethical, reasonable, articulate and able to be explained to clients and their families is critical. Being held to account is important, and the onus is on local authorities to help staff with good skills in decision making.

The KVETS framework offers a sound way that this can be more assured, saving the ordeal of people seeking review by JR. Thus, in a cash strapped context a better use of public funds follows.

Practice decisions are influenced by workplaces, threshold debates, cut backs, defensive decisions, risk-anxious practice, pressures by external partners as well as our set of personal and professional experiences, values and beliefs. We need a way to filter these influences to aid better decision making. Practice frameworks offer one way to do this; helping to render decisions visible and capable of withstanding judicial review. Other professionals do this well – it is time social work joined them. And more confidently so.

Any agreed practice framework needs to reinforce the use of up to date practice knowledge (K) and research, promote core social work values (V) and ethics, render visible social work theories (T) and methods, and promote a range of practice skills (S).

The practitioner’s experiential learning is also recognised (E) and promoted – important if we are to drive decisions based on our professional standards. So the test for any practice framework is a five quadrant model promoted as a set of practice triggers or prompts bought to action through knowledge, values, experiential learning, theories and skills – KVETS (for more reading see Stanley, 2016; 2017).

The Adult Social Care Practice Framework (The KVETS model)

KVETS offers a non-prescriptive and flexible framework that can help social workers to grow their understandings about theory, research, evidence and experience interrelating and playing out in everyday decision making. Presented in this easy-to-use way, KVETS is an exciting development in the lexicon of practice reform.

In refection and supervision, the framework prompts deeper engagement with the why and how of decision making.

Endorsed by Lyn Romeo, chief social worker for adults, the KVETS Practice Framework for Strengths Based Social Work with Adults was launched at a recent Care Act Conference in Manchester. A toolkit has been developed to ‘put into practice’ the KVETS Practice Framework model and this is being rolled out to social workers nationally.

Pilots have been agreed in a few local authorities, and will be led by the Principal Social Worker. A significant aim is to offer more rigour in decision making, something that cash-strapped local authorities and health services need to focus on. Helping the right people at the right time is crucial. Being able to defend decisions ethically and professionally being the aim. We know this can work.

Tony was principal social worker in Tower Hamlets and during 2014 – 15 several contentious cases came to legal via the judicial review process and when the KVETS model was applied the practice decisions were rendered clear and justified. In one case a hospital social work denied a home help service on discharge and this we challenged.

The deacon’s rationale was tested through the KVETS model and the client was provided with a clear rationale as to why the service was denied. Not offering a service is just as important as giving the right service. KVETS helped to frame and explain why certain decisions were made.

The KVETS framework logically connects the frontline to practice leadership, senior managers, quality assurance and the learning offer. The Care Act is then delivered and effective interagency working promoted. An evaluation of KVETS will be reported to the Department of Health and Social Care and help us all to deliver system wide changes to enhance and drive improving everyday practice and decisions.

Practice reform fails when the latest fad or quick fix idea is sold to an organisation and then frontline workers are just expected ‘to get on with it’. Too often sheep-dip training is rolled out to social work teams with leaders and senior managers ‘too busy’ to go, or worse, not recognising that this is also their core business. This is a fundamental organisational mistake we think worthy of avoiding. KVETS offers an exciting and promising way forward for social work.

Decision making is one of the complexities of our work, yet an area vastly under debated. The KVETS model offers a way to bring transparency and clarity in decision making rending actions both justifiable and ethical. Arguments of what is needed or not then follow. A better use of scarce public money is always in the best interest of our service users.

Tony Stanley is a social worker, most recently employed in the UK as chief social worker for Birmingham children’s services, and is now based in New Zealand, Sam Baron is the interim head of department for social care and social work at Manchester Metropolitan University, Lyn Romeo is the chief social worker for adults.

One Response to How social workers could make more ethical and justifiable decisions for service users

  1. EJ January 14, 2019 at 6:49 pm #

    Shame this doesn’t make the same statement about children’s social care.