A Positive Approach to Risk
Scope of this chapter
Risk is broadly defined as 'the probability that an event will occur with beneficial or harmful consequences'.
Adopting a positive approach to risk means encouraging and/or enabling a person to take a risk when the benefits of doing so outweigh the risk of harm, particularly when taking the risk is likely to achieve personal change, growth or promote individual Wellbeing.
Having a positive approach to risk is a core principle and value. This means that it applies to everyone and is always relevant when planning for or providing care and support.
Related Chapters and Guidance
We all make decisions about whether to take risks every day.
We may not consciously be aware of it but whenever we make any decision about doing something (or not doing something), we make a judgement about whether the benefit outweighs the risk of harm or other negative outcome.
In order to make decisions we draw on a range of available information. Examples include our past experiences, the advice of others, something we have seen on the internet or TV or information we have been given to read. We then use this information to make a decision that is right for us. Sometimes there are gaps in information, and we must rely on logic and our ‘gut feeling’ to make the best decision at that time.
Almost always, the decision we make still carries an element of risk. Most aspects of daily life are not 100% risk free. This may not be a risk of physical harm. It could be a financial risk or an emotional one.
Every time we take a risk, we grow and learn. Negative experiences help us avoid making the same mistakes again and positive ones often enrich our lives. Our ability to make informed decisions and choices improves.
If we look back through time, the approach of social care and health organisations towards risk has always been to avoid harm at all costs, regardless of whether a person had the capacity to make their own decision and regardless of what they wanted. The premise was simple; by avoiding risk you avoid harm.
Even when things don’t work out as planned or hoped, imagine how you would feel if your autonomy and freedom to make decisions was taken away from you and placed in the hands of others.
Thankfully, this view has now changed.
Our role is not to eliminate risk, but to support people to understand and consider the range of information available to them and to make their own decisions about how to live their life. This is a positive approach to risk and increases choice, control, independence, resilience and wellbeing.
There are still times when we will need to intervene, and we should always consider ways to reduce unnecessary risk:
We may need to undertake a formal risk assessment process, in order to identify ways to minimise risk and support the person to be as safe from harm as possible. This could involve working with other professionals, such as a social worker, occupational therapist or clinical psychologist.
We still have a responsibility to safeguard people from abuse or neglect, and if their decision puts them at such risk a safeguarding concern should be raised.
We need to consider whether a decision made by one person could pose a risk for other adults, or any children and take the relevant action to safeguard those people.
We still have a duty of care and must ensure that the person’s needs are not neglected as a result of their decision. This could involve an element of negotiation with them to ensure their decision is respected without comprising the quality of care and support being provided.
For further guidance about the duty of care see: Safe Care and Treatment
If a person lacks the capacity to make a particular decision, we will need to consider whether taking the risk is in their best interests under the Mental Capacity Act 2005. In doing this, we will need to have full regard for their wishes and feelings about taking the risk.
See: Mental Capacity
Last Updated: March 18, 2022