Social Work and Human Rights: A Practice Guide

Linda Harms Smiths, Maria-Ines Martinez-Herrero, Paul Arnell, Janine Bolger, Alice Butler-Warke, William Cook, Margaret Downey, Natalie Farmer, Jack Nicholls, Denise Mac Dermott

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Human rights are at the centre of every-day social work practice. The legislation and policy under which social workers practice is governed by human rights legislation. The Human Rights Act 1998 identified a number of protections including the right to liberty (Article 5) and the right to family life (Article 8). Social workers undertaking mental health assessments have to take into account Article 5 as do social workers applying Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS). Social workers (and the courts) making decisions about the removal of children, or adoption, have to take into account Article 8. As this Practice Guide will demonstrate there are many other examples.

Positioning social work as a social justice and human rights profession also means that engaging with questions of human rights extends beyond the application of specific laws to a more holistic human rights orientation. The subject of human rights and social work therefore covers a large and complex area so this is not a comprehensive statement but a Practice Guide to the key issues. However, a wide range of resources have been signposted. The Guide can be read in its entirety or social workers can use the sections that seem most relevant to them. Legislation and case law were correct at the time of writing. While this Guide aims to be an authoritative source it is not a substitute for making decisions about individual cases in isolation from supervision and professional accountability.

Part 1 covers the essential background to human rights. Section 1 looks at the development of human rights law in the UK. Human rights have an ethical dimension, but ethics and human rights are different, and this is explained in Section 2. Often claims are made that ‘this is a human rights issue’ and Section 3 sets outs what can legitimately be currently claimed as a ‘human right’. Human rights can also conflict and Section 4 explores this area. Section 5 looks at ‘protected characteristics’, the rights that relate to sex, race, religion, sexuality and other characteristics.

Part 2 tackles issues of social work practice. Section 6 introduces the areas of children and families, adults, disability and migrants and refugees. Section 7 looks at human rights and medical issues and Section 8 Human Rights and ICT as they relate to social work. Section 9 deals with the questions of poverty, austerity and human rights. Section 10 looks at the education and training of social work while Section 11 sets out the increasing divergence of law, policy and practice across the four countries of the UK. Section 12 examines the impact of Brexit.

Original languageEnglish
PublisherBritish Association of Social Workers
Commissioning bodyBritish Association of Social Workers
Number of pages61
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 10 Dec 2019


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