Social workers have gaps in their knowledge of the Care Act relating to safeguarding and the nature of their role that supervision may not be able to fill, a study has found.
Practitioners seemingly misunderstood key rules under the act and there was no statistically significant effect of supervision on their decision-making, found the research, completed in 2018 but published just before Christmas 2020 by the National Institute for Health Research’s School for Social Care Research.
The research tested 169 adults’ services social workers in relation to four case vignettes, asking them to identify problems and decisions they would take, and select which of a number of decision-making rules were relevant to the case. Half had been given simulated supervision in relation to the vignettes they were given, though supervisors were prevented from identifying the correct problems and most appropriate decisions for each case, and instead provided active listening and asked probing questions.
Social work not recognised as service
The study found knowledge gaps in three key areas. Firstly, practitioners were much more likely to make decisions to assess or reassess a person’s needs or arrange care and support for them, rather than see the provision of social work as a service in its own right. Section 8 of the Care Act lists “counselling and other types of social work” as a service that may be provided to meet a person’s needs.
In one vignette that was designed to include a need for social work support, 22% of decisions were to reassess the person’s needs, 57% related to their carer’s needs and just 22% involved assessing for or providing social work.
The second gap concerned the weight that should be put on an individual’s judgment of their own wellbeing. The research found that practitioners relied on rules that led them to accept the adult’s judgment and wishes even where the indications were that doing so would probably not promote their wellbeing.
Section 1(3) of the Care Act states that local authorities must have regard to the importance of beginning with the assumption that the individual is best-placed to judge their wellbeing, and to the individual’s views, wishes, feelings and beliefs.
Tendency to follow individual’s judgment of wellbeing
However, while vignettes were based on decision rules that required a questioning of the individual’s judgment of their wellbeing, only a minority recognised this. Across the four vignettes, 9% of practitioners relied on the rule that the individual may not be the best judge of their wellbeing, while 27% cited the importance of beginning from the assumption that the person was the best judge. Likewise, 10% adopted the rule that it may not be appropriate to follow the individual’s views, while 51% cited that of having regard to the person’s views, wishes and feelings.
There were also knowledge gaps in relation to assessment, including that the duty to assess need under section 9 of the Care Act still held if an adult who refused an assessment was at risk of abuse or neglect. Also, practitioners saw their duty concerning the protection of an adult in need of care and support from abuse was mainly to provide information and advice, and to refer to domestic abuse agencies, or less often to a safeguarding team. They did not recognise their duty to complete a needs assessment.
This is despite protection from abuse and neglect being one of the elements of wellbeing listed under section 1 of the act, which any needs assessment under section 9 should consider, with the person being potentially eligible for care and support if their needs had a significant impact on this aspect of their wellbeing.
“This implies that an adult with needs which are impacting on their well-being in relation to protection would typically not have such
needs assessed nor be provided with services to meet them, other than information and advice,” said the research. “They would typically not be assisted by a social worker to protect themselves.”
About the research
The study, which ran from 2015-18, was led by Angela Jenkinson, then of Kingston University and now at King’s College London, and also carried out by Professor Jill Manthorpe, director of the NIHR Health and Social Care Workforce Research Unit at KCL, and Dr Marie Juanch and Dr Miroslav Sirota, from the University of Essex.
One hundred and sixty nine social workers from local authority adults’ services were each given two case vignettes (out of four), developed by a group of principal social workers and a social work consultant, indicating a problematic circumstance and a need for statutory social work intervention.
The social workers were aksed to note down five problems and five decisions they would take for each case. The social workers were also asked to select five decision-making rules they had most relied on from a set of 40. Half discussed the case in a simulated supervision before doing so, during which the supervisor provided active listening and asked probing questions but did not direct the practitioner.
The social workers’ answers were then assessed against a set of correct problems and decisions developed by the PSWs and consultant.
The findings fed into a 2019 practice advice note for social workers on the Care Act, written by Jenkinson and John Chamberlain.