Social Workers get new practice guidance on working with people with learning disabilities with mental health needs


Following the publication of the Winterborne View ‘concordat’ December 2012, it was agreed that the College of Social Work, in collaboration with other key groups and organisations, would produce guidance for social workers on good practice in working with people with learning disabilities who also have mental health conditions.

The College of Social Work  is an organisation committed to the development of the social work profession, and benefitting the people the profession exists to serve. The college describes itself as an “independent membership organisation that aims to provide a strong, unified voice for social workers and play a leading role in the development of social policy.”

The guidance has now been published and is aimed at improving standards following the events at Winterbourne View. This guidance builds on existing social work good practice advice and evidence and policy guidance like No Secrets.

This additional advice is focused on the special factors that may need to be considered when working with people with learning disabilities whose behaviour is challenging in order to promote high standards of professional practice.

The document has been produced in collaboration with people with learning disabilities and their families, the British Association of Social Workers (BASW),  the trade union UNISON and the learning disability charity Mencap.

Key areas covered include

  • The importance of the human rights of the service user
  • Promoting quality of life in addition to preventing  harm
  • The importance of ‘whistle-blowing’ on instances of harmful practice
  • The importance of good liaison with expert colleagues to seek further advice on cases where appropriate.
  • The importance of good communication with families or those important to the person being supported

The advice also points out that working with people who are distressed, and supporting their carers or families, can be emotionally draining and that social workers should have access to good support and supervision.

Good practice advice for social workers and their line managers working with people with learning disabilities who are distressed or whose behaviour challenges those around them. The College of Social Work, 2013

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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