A question of ‘risk’



“Risk” used to be the area of work that I knew something about.  Understanding risks, assessing risks and managing risks.  It’s a field of work that I left sometime ago, and it came as quite a surprise to be round the dinner table at the weekend talking about it.  Especially in the context of current Social Worker training.  Now, in my own risk management, I’m not going to name the person, the Social Services Team or the leading Children’s Charity that delivered the training.  I wasn’t there, but I wholly trust the person who was.

The course was concerned with safeguarding children.  The facilitator was talking about a ‘risk based assessment’ when protecting children.  In the light of recent child abuse scandals, there is concern of group grooming of vulnerable children, and this seemed to be where the training was going.  However, any abuse of a child is surely cause for concern? So my friend challenged what they meant by “risk”.  The trainers looked at each other, and said “risk of harm”.  A good answer, perhaps.  My friend asked another question, a risk of harm to whom?  This drew something of another blank.  The point that she, my friend, was trying to get to, was that if we take a child-centred view of risk, then harm will be done to the child whether an abuser is targeting the individual or many.  Does it make it more harmful to the child?  The harm has been done, abuse has taken place.  So, the risk of harm remains the same.  Is there any other risk that matters?  Apparently there is, because a more significant risk would be with a case of multiple abusers. Certainly the risk of harm to a Social Services Team is increased as everyone fears another Baby P.  There just seems to be a confused view of risk in training, and it’s a very valid question about who this risk-based approach is seeking to safeguard.  Surely, it should always be about the vulnerable child.

And there’s the quid pro quo – given limited resources, a full case load, teams are forced to take a risk based view of safeguarding children.  Let’s just not kid ourselves it is all about the individual child, but some assessment of potential damage to children.  It must be heart breaking to be a Social Worker when there is a corporate measure applied to care.