Book Review: Social Work, Cats and Rocket Science

Every so often you come across a book which provides exactly what its subtitle (if not title) promises. Social Work, Cats and Rocket Science (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, c£18.00) is one.

Subtitled “stories of making a difference in social work with adults,” the book offers insights, challenges and heartbreak from the collective experience of three extraordinarily thoughtful social workers (Rob Mitchell, Mark Harvey and Ian Burgess) and two researcher practitioners working in commissioning and social work education (Elaine James and Hannah Morgan). It draws from blogs that the authors started to write in 2015, but expands on those blogs to include both framing commentary and case studies to provoke reflection in both newly qualified and experienced social workers alike – and, indeed, for anyone concerned with rights.

I am confident that the book will become essential reading for those training to be social workers, but chapters such as “love, hope and relationships” should be required reading for medical professionals, lawyers, police officers and anyone else who might be required to delve into the Alice in Wonderland world in which, as Rob describes, the words “sex and relationship” are equated with “risk and danger, rarely love.”

As stimulated – and frequently encouraged – as I was by this book, and by the passion of its authors, I must confess to finding it bleakly ironic that, in the introduction, the authors tell us that “the creation of Best Interest Assessor (BIA) roles – the unique role that social workers […] take of safeguarding people’s inherent dignity, ensuring their wishes are central to any decision taken in their best interest and in promoting the notion that human rights are universal – gives us lots of confidence for the future.” But, of course, the BIA role was created, not as a champion of the rights of those with impaired capacity more generally, but within the framework for what is now industrial-scale detention. Should it really have taken the need for oversight of deprivation of liberty to make public bodies take capacity and best interests seriously?

However, perhaps we should take our wins where we can in terms of rights protection and promotion, and these authors have undoubtedly shown how it can be done.

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