Concepts of risk in relation to organizational structure and functioning within the personal social services and probation

Hazel Kemshall, Nigel Parton, Mike Walsh, Jan Waterson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Citations (Scopus)


The main argument of this paper is that personal social services, including probation, at both a policy and practice level are increasingly focused on issues of risk. We postulate that risk assessment, risk management, the monitoring of risk and risk-taking itself are rapidly becoming the dominant raison d'être of such agencies, thus supplanting ideologies of meeting need or welfare provision. In turn they have become key to priority setting and rationing, the basis for organizational rationales and structures, the central focus for professional activity and accountability, and for measuring quality. Thus an analysis of risk as an organizing principle offers fundamental insights into the rapidly changing nature and organization of statutory social work and probation. There is very little literature that focuses on risk across the spectrum of services. Risk analysis, as such, is most developed in the criminal justice and child protection fields. However, the mental health literature, being centrally preoccupied with notions of dangerousness, is quickly adopting risk terminology. Apart from work on elder abuse, literature on child welfare and community care has been framed in terms of need, issues of risk only coming to the fore around potential admission to residential care. We contend that as issues of rationing and accountability become more dominant, so do concerns with risk. Thus we predict the extension of notions of risk as central organizing principles throughout the social services and probation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)213-232
Number of pages20
JournalSocial Policy and Administration
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 1997


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