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Reflections on ‘A Relative Affair’ The Nearest Relative under the Mental Health Act 1983

A qualitative study conducted on a part-time basis at Anglia Polytechnic (now Anglia Ruskin) University between 1995 and 2002

Using the nearest relative study as an example, the purpose of this paper, by Joan Rapaport, is to promote the interest of social workers in undertaking research and to support the argument that research methods and social work practice can sometimes be very similar. A prime objective is to demonstrate that research is an essential tool not only to promote policy and practice but also to empower social workers to engage in debate and consultations about matters that are of central importance to their role. The nearest relative study comprised historical and contemporary parts. The underpinning philosophical, theoretical and methodological elements of the nearest relative study will be briefly described with an emphasis on the contemporary section. Reference will be made to the historical section and nearest relative functions in outline to provide sufficient context to help orientate the reader. However, readers should note the importance of the historical perspective in providing continuity and reciprocal links with the past, and understanding historical and contemporary realities (Braudel, 1980).