Social workers must have a thorough knowledge and understanding of the Mental Capacity Act (MCA) and Code of Practice and be able to apply these in practice. They should always begin from the presumption that individuals have capacity to make the decision in question.
Social workers should understand how to make a capacity assessment, the decision and time specific nature of capacity and hence the need to reassess capacity appropriately. They should know when and how to refer to a Best Interest Assessor.
Social workers must understand their responsibilities for people who are assessed as lacking capacity at a particular time and must ensure that they are supported to be involved in decisions about themselves and their care as far as is possible. Where they are unable to be involved in the decision-making process decisions should be taken in their best interests following consultation with all appropriate parties, including families and carers. Social workers must seek to ensure that an individual’s care plan is the least restrictive possible to achieve the intended outcomes.
Social workers have a key leadership role in modelling to other professionals the proper application of the MCA. Key to this is the understanding that the MCA exists to empower those who lack capacity as much as it exists to protect them. Social workers must model and lead a change of approach, away from that where the default setting is “safety first”, towards a person-centred culture where individual choice is encouraged and where the right of all individuals to express their own lifestyle choices is recognised and valued.
In working with those where there is no concern over capacity, social workers should take all practicable steps to empower people to make their own decisions, recognising that people are experts in their own lives and working alongside them to identify person-centred solutions to risk and harm, recognising the individual’s right to make “unwise” decisions.
The full Knowledge and Skills Statement for social workers in adult services can be viewed on the Department of Health and Social Care website.
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