Isabelle Trowler and I, in our capacities as the Chief Social Workers for Children and Families and Adults respectively, are happy to support any initiative which seeks to promote best practice and uphold human rights. The recently launched National Mental Capacity Act Forum – and this week’s day of action on World Social Work Day 2016 (WSWD) – is an exciting and very welcome case in point.
The theme of WSWD is ‘Promoting the Dignity and Worth of Peoples’. Making sure the dignity and rights of people with capacity issues are respected is intrinsic to social work values. Enabling self-determination, withholding judgement, demonstrating anti-discriminatory and anti-oppressive behaviours which respect and support independence, are fundamental values within our practice.
The Mental Capacity Act 2005 (MCA) has already puts in place clear principles for supporting and treating people who may lack the mental capacity to make their own decisions. The resources I commissioned and published last year relating to mental capacity, autism and dementia are already in service to this ideal. It’s another important demonstration that social work is not vague in its approach to solving personal problems but can be specific, targeted and person-centred.
The MCA makes clear that individuals must be supported to make their own decisions. They should not be assumed to be unable to make choices simply because of how they look or because they may have a learning disability or mental health condition. Individuals should be allowed to make their own lifestyle decisions – as we all are. And they should be afforded as much personal freedom as possible.
It’s a perspective all of us working in this profession can identify with and it speaks to our own values of empathy, respect and helping people make the best life decisions they can.
Yet, beyond social work, there is evidence these simple principles are not being put into practice as a matter of routine. Awareness and understanding of the Mental Capacity Act among medical and care professionals is not what it should be. We have the law, but translating this into practice requires something more than legislation.
This week, National Mental Capacity Action Day brings together those with a passion for the MCA and for the wellbeing of individuals who lack capacity to act in their own best interests. This event will ask partners across health and care but also those beyond the sector (high street banking, legal services, the police) to work together to provide greater support for those who need our help.
The MCA has suffered from inadequate implementation not because health and care professionals do not care - quite the opposite. Supporting vulnerable people is central to everything they do. It has suffered because we live in busy and pressurised times and so it takes longer to raise awareness and change attitudes. But I am optimistic about what this action day – and the forum it supports – can do. I know from experience - and that of my fellow social workers - the difference it can make when professionals takes the time to truly understand the person in front of them. Much heartache, stress and yes – money – can be saved by taking the time up front to get it right first time.
I hope you’re planning to take part in the National Mental Capacity Action Day as Isabelle, I and the principal social workers for adults are doing. But beyond this day, why not commit to making connections beyond the boundaries of our profession? It is something we already do as social workers, as we forge community connections and work ever more closely with local health and care services. Championing best practice, influencing and motivating our colleagues and others is a vital part of our professional and practice leadership. We have the capacity, so let’s show everyone else how it’s done!