Book Reviews: Social Work with Adults; Disabled Children: A Legal Handbook (2nd edition); and Community Care Law and Local Authority Handbook (3rd edition)



Social Work with Adults: Jim Rogers, Lucy Bright and Helen Davies (SAGE, 2015, paperback/Kindle, £20.99)

It is a sign of how far we have come, perhaps, that a book entitled “Social Work with Adults” on closer inspection in fact turns out to be a book almost entirely about how to apply the Mental Capacity Act effectively in social work practice.

It could be argued that this reflects what should always have been the case, namely that good social work practice is founded on exactly the same principles as the MCA, namely seeking to ensure that people are wherever possible able to take their own decisions, and that any decisions taken in relation to them seek to strike the right balance between empowerment and protection.  Sadly, as is well known, this is not always so in practice, and this slim volume is designed to assist student social workers the master these core principles and the way that they can translate effectively into practice. In fact, it would also serve as a useful primer/refresher for any social worker seeking to take a step back and to be reflective about their practice.  Written by an experienced team of the lecturers from Lincoln University, the book is clearly and simply presented, a particularly useful feature being the repeated return to 2 case studies outlined at the start of the book to allow different perspectives to be brought on particular aspects at different stages. It also weaves in throughout thoughtful and insightful perspectives on many of the ethical dilemmas that confront social workers in this field – both vis-à-vis service users and importantly as regards their own professional practices.

If I had a criticism (apart from the title which might be read as suggesting that it covers such matters as the Care Act, which it does not), it is a small one, and that is the book touches only very lightly on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  I can understand why this is so, given the limited compass of the book and the current ambiguous status of the Convention in English law.  However, it might be said it was a slightly missed opportunity not to use the Convention and the thinking behind the Convention to prod student social workers, who are the new generation, into thinking even more carefully about the basis upon which they have the right to make decisions on behalf of others, and the basis upon which such decisions should be made.

However, this really is only a very minor criticism, and this book is a really excellent introduction to the area, tailored admirably to the specific needs of student social workers, and one that sits very nicely alongside the Practical Guide to the Mental Capacity Act 2005  book that that was reviewed in the December newsletter.

Disabled Children: A Legal Handbook (2nd edition): Steve Broach, Luke Clements and Janet Read (Legal Action Group, 2015, paperback/eBook, £50)

The second edition of this book is a real tour de force.   As with the first edition, but comprehensively updated and significantly expanded, it takes the reader through the bewildering complexity of statutory provisions non-statutory provisions, codes of practice and case-law that set down the law in relation to children with disabilities.   It does so from a resolutely practical perspective sensitive to the needs of children with disabilities, their families and carers, and reflecting the deep expertise of the authorial team (joined for this edition by a number of expert contributors).

For present purposes, I would single out the chapter on decision-making: the legal framework (chapter 7), which provides as secure a guide as possible to the strange contortions that the law ties us into as we seek to divide those below 18 to those who may lack competence and those who may lack capacity.   How the Mental Capacity Act applies to those aged 16 and 17 is extremely poorly understood in general, in my experience, and the chapter is extremely helpful in this regard, and in outlining (insofar as it is sensibly possible to do so given the grey areas of the law that exist) when and how those with parental responsibility may decide on behalf of their children

Almost the best thing about the book is that, thanks to the Council for Disabled Children, it will shortly be available to download in its entirety for free from their website.  Not least because it runs to 597 pages, and because the proceeds go towards the marvellous Legal Action Group, do please consider purchasing it!

Community Care Law and Local Authority Handbook (3rd edition): ed. HHJ Jonathan Butler (Jordans, 2015, paperback/eBook, from £67.50)

The third edition of this Handbook is a book which manages to cover a remarkable amount of territory in a relatively short compass (618 pages).  It is not a textbook in a conventional sense, but rather an expert distillation of relevant materials (such as statutes and Codes of Practice) together with concise and expert authoritative commentary thereupon.   It is particularly useful for outlining how the Care Act impacts across a very broad range of local authority functions and duties. The book has been on my shelf for a couple of weeks now, and I have already found myself raiding it for relevant information (and usually finding it).

What the book does perhaps lack, however, is an overview chapter at the beginning pulling everything together.  Rather, it dives straight in with a (detailed and extremely helpful) chapter on mental health. I hope that for the fourth edition HHJ Jonathan Butler may find the time to draw together even a brief chapter putting together the various threads in the book.  Without it, the book is not perhaps for complete novices, but it stands is a very useful addition to the bookshelves of anyone who needs to be able to get up to speed quickly on the specific areas it covers.

[full disclosure: I am grateful to (in the first instance) Jim Rogers and (in the second and third instances) the publishers for providing me with copies of these the works reviewed here.  I am always happy to review works in the field of mental capacity (broadly defined)]



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