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Accepting 'risk' is part of personalisation, says Chief Social Worker for Adults

Personalisation means social workers must respect the right of individuals to live with risk in their lives, England’s Chief Social Worker for Adults said.

In some situations, this could even mean supporting older people to live with relatives that are neglecting or financially abusing them, said Lyn Romeo.

Ms Romeo claimed the move towards personalisation required a change in culture so focus is more on the outcomes desired by adults with capacity to make decisions about their lives rather than what the system wants.

Speaking at BASW's England Annual Conference on safeguarding in Bristol, Ms Romeo said social workers found this shift difficult to make because they were usually located in risk-averse, procedure-driven local authority settings.

“What gets lost is that at the heart of it, it is still a conversation and an attunement with the people you need to work with and understanding their context, and relationships within which they live,” she said.

“While there may sometimes be unfortunate things going on, that doesn’t mean people don’t want to maintain contact with those who are important to them.

“That has been one of the most complex things for social workers to work with. That often you will have an elderly person living with their son who may be neglecting, or exploiting or not paying as much attention to them as they should be, but they still want to stay there and live with their son.

“It may not always be the happy ending we would like, but it will be the best that they can get for what they want for themselves.

“That is quite an ambivalent and difficult thing to hold on to, but as social workers we really need to be able to get to that place and acknowledge that what really matters is what the person wanted, their level and capacity to make that decision, and supporting them in that while putting other support in place.”

Ms Romeo took on the role as England’s first Chief Social Worker for Adults along with her children’s counterpart Isabelle Trowler last year.

She told delegates that social workers along with other agencies such as the police and the NHS need to adopt a less “risk-averse” approach to helping people.

She added: “Lord Justice Munby [President of the Family Division in England and Wales] made a statement about safeguarding and said ‘what good is it making someone safer if it merely makes them miserable?’

“We all want to make sure we have the life we want even though sometimes there are lots of risk and difficulty in that. We want as much choice and control over our lives as we can.”