The interpretation of human rights in English social work: an exploration in the context of services for children and for parents with learning difficulties

Buchanan, Ian and Gunn, Robert (2007). The interpretation of human rights in English social work: an exploration in the context of services for children and for parents with learning difficulties. Ethics and Social Welfare, 1(2) pp. 147–162.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/17496530701450349

Abstract

Human rights are a central part of a social worker’s value base in contemporary practice, but the structures by which social work services are delivered can adversely affect practitioners’ abilities to uphold service user rights. This article describes the organisational development of social work services in England and the evolution of a rights focus for the practice of social work. It uses two cases, participation by children and young people looked after by the local authority and parents with learning difficulties, to determine what prevents the delivery of rights at practice level. We argue that the structures which are the product of historical development prevent workers delivering a service that is anti-oppressive and grounded in a rights based approach to practice. This suggests that the recent changed arrangements for the delivery of social work offer the opportunity to address human rights within practice and reinvigorate the profession. The division of the profession between children’s trusts and adult social services within separate local authority departments or care trusts should make dialogue between specialist social workers, which has been suppressed by internal structures, possible. Such a dialogue could contribute to saving the profession from the disintegration that its division threatens, while advancing the human rights agenda.

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