Social Work Law Essay Example

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by Professor Jill Manthorpe, director of the Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King’s College London

You may find an essay on mental capacity a little hard to start initially but it will be of great value to you as the subject comes up time and again in social work practice with adults. One first task is to establish what the question is expecting: is this an outline of the law in practice? If so, the Code of Practice (PDF), the SCIE website and recent articles focusing on practice are easily accessible. The SCIE website contains the DH training materials on the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (England and Wales) and these are helpful if you missed the teaching or want a refresher.

There are many facets to an essay on mental capacity if it is practice focused. The first element will likely be assessment, and the Code of Practice (PDF) sets out clearly the main elements here.

But the question may relate to advocacy and communication – in which case you will need to touch upon adult safeguarding but also rights of self-determination.

Restraint is not the only item covered by the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards so touch on this but think more broadly. You may also find it helpful to discuss the difficulties but also the benefits of acting in someone’s best interests. Ethical debates and dilemmas are part and parcel of this topic.

There are therefore three main risks in an essay about mental capacity:

– not being clear on the law

– touching upon too much and getting muddled in the process

– presuming that social workers are central to the process. In many ways they are not, so a social work essay needs to tread that fine line of knowing but not claiming the territory.

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by Liz Davies, senior lecturer, children and families social work, London Metropolitan University.


Make your argument clear from the beginning

Students often launch straight into the essay topic without introducing their approach to the essay. It is really important for the marker to understand the student’s rationale in responding to the essay title and to be guided as to how the student intends to address the question. Students often begin an essay with long definitions or historical information without relating these to the essay title. Equally important is a conclusion which relates back to the aims set out in the introduction and demonstrates a progression in thinking achieved through the process of writing the essay.

Identify references clearly

The marker must be able to identify exactly the source of a reference. Students often include a website without stating the exact webpage. A marker cannot locate a reference on complex websites such as the Department for Education without the detail of the exact page being provided.

Similarly, quotations must include the page number so that the marker can find the exact source material. This is particularly important because of the extent of plagiarism and the need for academics to check exactly where the student has gained the information from. Also, students probably do not realise that as lecturers we often like to check a reference for our own interest to develop our knowledge of the subject.

Use professional, not colloquial, language

Students often use language which is colloquial and as they would speak rather than more professional language – for example, “I got a case of…” rather than “I was allocated the case of…”. Or “I did an interview” rather than “I conducted an interview”. It is important to recognise the distinction between how to communicate verbally and how to write a coherent and professional essay.

Provide evidence that you understand social work principles

Students often list principles of social work practice without evidencing their understanding of them. For example, they state that social workers must be anti-oppressive and non-judgemental but often give no evidence that they understand the concept or know how to apply it in practice. Lists of principles and standards should be avoided. The marker needs to know that the student has made sense of these concepts and can demonstrate their application.

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