Social Workers

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TMA 01- It is important for social workers to have a good understanding of the law. Discuss.

For this assignment I will discuss why it is essential for social workers to have an understanding of the law and how the law is made up and how it underpins social work practices today. The law that underpins social work practices today was radically changed in the mid 1980’s following a series of scandals and public inquiries. For instance, newspapers widely reported the murder of 8-year-old Victoria Climbié at the hands of her great aunt and her partner during 2000. The negative adverse publicity surrounding this tragedy was largely blamed on social workers and other health professionals. This prompted the governernment to set up a public enquiry (Laming, 2003). As a result of this enquiry, these findings led Parliament to pass the Children Act 2004 which places legal duties on social services, hence why the law has become more prominent in social work education. Social workers MUST have an understanding of the law and be accountable for their practices.

Knowledge of the law is essential as it plays an active role in social work practices. Legislation passed in recent years are the Children Act 1989 and 2004, Community Care Act, Adoption and Children Act 2002 and Mental Capacity Act 2004.

Understanding the law lays the foundations and provides social workers with duties and powers. Having an understanding of the statutory and legal requirements is essential to practice effectively when working with service users empowering them to access their rights and entitlements and how these can be enforced. Failure to have this knowledge may leave social workers vulnerable as well as the service user.

However having said that, the relationship between the law and social work practice is very complex. “It is not enough to consider the law in isolation: it must be considered in the context of social work values. (K270 Unit 4. p,130)

The Health Care Professionals Council previously known as GSCC sets out core values and these protect the rights of the social worker. These values do not stand alone and are connected to the Law. The main core values underpin the practice of social work in relation to the law, examples are Working in Partnership, supported to some extent by the Children Act 2004, Empowerment supported to some extent by the Mental Capacity Act 2005, Rights supported to some extent by the Human Rights Act 1998, Accountability supported to some extent by the Care Standards Act 2000 and Valuing Diversity supported to some extent by the Equality Act 2010.

“Constant reflection and critical analysis of your own values and the practice of social work are required to be an effective practitioner” (k270 Unit 4. p,130).

The law is produced by two main processes:

Statute law which is passed by an act of parliament. The children Act 1989 is an example. Acts can be amended by new statutes, an example being the Children Act 2004.

“Reading and understanding statutes is important because they are the starting point for exploring the legal framework”. (K270 Unit 2. p,51)

A lot of words and phrases in the statute law are very often not defined and open to interpretation, for example in the Children Act 1989 “significant harm” is not described in detail. It is down to the social worker to provide sufficient evidence to the courts that the child will suffer significant harm if not removed by a care order.

Case law is the second source of law and is developed by the courts as they make judgements on cases bought before them (Unit 2. p,51). A well documented case law is that of Diane Petty in 2001. Diane had a terminal illness and wanted the right to choose to end her life with the help of her husband. Diane argued that” the right to life contained within article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) also implied the right to die”. The courts rejected her application and was clear in saying that...
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