In search of social work's post-risk paradigm

Joseph Karl Smeeton


This paper describes a paradigmatic shift in child protection practice within the UK, arguing that there is a move away from the risk paradigm but that its replacement is not yet defined. The paper draws upon the critical literature to elucidate this shift and to give examples and arguments for why the risk paradigm is unsustainable and how this has created an essential tension within the profession. The paper finds that while the case against the risk perspective is strongly argued there is not yet a coherent perspective to replace it. The author suggests that this is problematic as practitioners are left with a toolkit of technical interventions to guide their practice but what is missing is the capacity to develop an ethic of practice due to a failure of social work in the UK to engage with philosophical questions about its remit. The paper concludes that social work education needs to focus more on ethical fluency rather than being stuck on statistical understandings of practice and policy in order to achieve a shift in paradigm from ‘risk’ to ‘ethics’.

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