“What we get to do is build relationships, learn and understand people. I genuinely think by having different conversations, people are actually safer.”
*Trigger Warning: Reference to Suicide.
Practices surrounding risk assessment and how that connected to services delivered was one area identified by practitioners as needing some further thought. Practitioners understood why organisations were so concerned about risk but they felt that this concern was misplaced. It seemed more about protecting the organisation if something went wrong rather than the people they were there to help.
People felt pressure to make sure they had certain conversations or filled in forms, but didn’t feel that this was always in line with strength-based working. People shared that forms were rarely representative of the people they were working with and that building trust and relationships were a much better way of people having the opportunity to be safe. Practitioners felt that risk assessment should be an ongoing conversation about how that person can keep themselves safe, whereas, sometimes risk assessment seemed to be more about completing a form for the organisation’s benefit.
“I can’t make a generalised statement but a lot of the people we support, we support them because of trauma and their past… I’m expected to sit down and say hey, can you tell me about all of your traumas? I haven’t got time to ask how their day was, why they’re here, or why they’re crying? Only, if you could just stop crying and fill out this form? Like, it’s not professionals’ fault that they have to work in that way, right? It’s a system that’s so terrified of a person killing themselves by suicide, or hurting someone at all. It’s so scared of some horrible negative consequences being lumped onto the organisation that it’s all about risk.”
Practitioners also mentioned that part of strength-based working was allowing people take some risks themselves. They felt that this is how we ordinarily live and learn in everyday life, but when you go through a tough time, like becoming homeless, this seems to be taken away from you. It all becomes very controlled and organisations become fearful of people making decisions and taking risks ‘we’ wouldn’t think twice about.
“People aren’t allowed to take risks if they become homeless, suddenly they are the risk. I get things wrong all the time, lots of people do – when you become homeless you are not allowed.”
When people access services because of tough times they can be seen as a risk which needs to be managed by the organisation, often seen as someone who inherently carries high risks which they cannot manage themselves, simply because of how they are coping with trauma or the situation they find themselves in. As a practitioner it can be difficult to focus on listening to the person when you feel pressure to protect the organisation, or yourself, from blame when things go wrong.