It seems that as we go about our daily lives we often hear about how risky life has become, how we should be aware of the risks for this or that, and how important it is for people to manage and respond to an increasing number of risks associated with lifestyle, travel, our finances, and our health. The idea of risk has permeated social work too. It is a major organising concept that shapes the way that services operate, and how they assess and respond to human need (Green, 2007). This use of the term ‘risk’ also presupposes a particular set of assumptions about people, and where responsibility for managing risk sits (Green, 2007). Yet, the definitions of risk, resilience, vulnerability, and so on are plagued by conceptual differences and some confusion (Kaplan, 1999). This chapter draws on social work and other literature to conceptualise risk as a form of knowledge that is used in social work practice and explains the development of the risk management paradigm in social work. At the same time, it critically examines the implications this has for how social workers think, talk and act in relation to their work. The chapter examines different theories of risk to highlight some of the theoretical and practical limitations of risk management that social workers must grasp and think critically about.
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