Reflective Practice in the Arena of Adult Social Care: How do Social Workers Negotiate the Liminal Space Between Policy and Practice?

Sarah Lonbay, Carole Southall

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


As a result of the changing legal and policy context over the last twenty years statutory social work with adults in the UK has undergone a series of radical reforms. Underpinning these changes has been an ideological shift in the way adult social care should be provided. A clear ‘direction’ including promotion of autonomy, self determination and personal responsibility are promoted representing changes for both social workers and people receiving services. However, some have suggested that there is an inherent contradiction between ‘bottom-up’ drivers for more choice and control over service provision and the ‘top-down’ directives that are shaping adult social care in the UK. For example, those who may be structurally excluded from accessing their rights as citizens may also be undermined in their ability to take control and manage their own needs within the context of adult social care.

This presentation will draw on findings from two PhD projects, both of which utilised in depth semi structured interviews with social work practitioners located in adult social care teams in the north east of England. The first project explored the involvement of older people in adult safeguarding and the second considered capacity assessments and best interest decision making under the Mental Capacity Act (2005).

Whilst focusing on differing topics, it was noted that similar issues regarding reflective practice were arising as strong themes within both of these projects. This paper will provide an overview of the research backgrounds and design, but the main focus will be an exploration of a common theme derived from both; social worker’s reflections on their present model of working. Specifically the paper will present key findings regarding how social workers attempt, within a complex liminal space, to reconcile the construction of the ‘service user’ within policy frameworks and the reality of their practice experience working with individuals in need of care and support.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 30 Mar 2016
Event6th European Conference for Social Work Research: Reflective social work practices in contemporary societies: dialogues and new pathways between praxis and research - Catholic University of Portugal, Lisbon, Portugal
Duration: 30 Mar 20161 Apr 2016


Conference6th European Conference for Social Work Research
Abbreviated titleECSWR 2016
Internet address


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