‘Everyone has an agenda’: Professionals’ understanding and negotiation of risk within the Guardianship system of Victoria, Australia

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It is frequently asserted that pressures to assess and manage risk have eroded the therapeutic, rights-based foundation of the human services profession. Some argue that human service workers operate in a culture of fear in which self-protection and blame avoidance, rather than clients’ needs, primarily drive decision-making. In the field of Adult Guardianship, it has been suggested that organisational risk avoidance may be motivating applications for substitute decision-makers, unnecessarily curtailing clients’ rights and freedoms. However, the absence of research examining the operation of risk within Guardianship decision-making inhibits verifying and responding to this very serious suggestion. This article draws on semi-structured interviews conducted with 10 professionals involved in the Victorian Guardianship system, which explored how issues of risk are perceived and negotiated in everyday practice. Risk was found to be a complex and subjective construct which can present both dangers and opportunities for Guardianship practitioners and their clients. While a number of participants reported that Guardianship might sometimes operate as an avenue for mitigating the fear and uncertainty of risk, most participants also valued positive risk-taking and were willing, in their clients’ interests, to challenge conservative logics of risk. These findings highlight the need for further research which examines how service providers and policy makers can create spaces that support open discussions around issues of risk and address practitioners’ sense of fear and vulnerability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)581-589
Number of pages9
JournalHealth and Social Care in the Community
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2018


  • adult protection
  • interpretation of risk
  • professional judgement and decision-making
  • professional roles and responsibilities
  • risk assessment
  • risk in community care

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