26. 10. 2023
ESWRA Seminar: The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Social Work: Evidence for Impact?

Mental Health SIG

Wednesday 6th December 2023, 12:00 GMT / 13:00 CET     Contact: 

Contributors: Pearse McCusker, Lauren Gillespie, Gavin Davidson, Sarah Vicary and Kevin Stone


The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (hereafter CRPD) has provided a radical imperative for the reform of mental health and capacity legislation around the world. The interpretation of the CRPD has been controversial, ranging from the complete abolition of detention, forcible treatment, and substitute decision-making to accepting that elements of these measures need to be retained based on non-discriminatory criteria, additional safeguards, and a comprehensive shift towards supported decision-making. While the potential effects of the CRPD on mental health social work and social work generally are considerable given their shared commitment towards social justice, to date there has been no review of research evidence exploring their relationship. In addressing this knowledge gap, this study held a preliminary discussion with practitioners and academics at the European Association of Social Work Mental Health Special Interest Group in Amsterdam 2022, followed by a scoping literature review on the question: What impact, if any, has the CRPD had on social work practice? The review produced four main findings: impact on legislation; positive impact on practice; limited impact on practice; and impact on social work education and research. In sum, while there were some positive indications of social work and mental health social work practice being influenced by the CRPD, these were scant. Barriers to change included tendencies among some social workers to practise substitute decision-making, in part related to resourcing and policy contexts, and understandings of disability aligned to individualised/medical rather than social perspectives. The results indicate that legal reform on its own is insufficient to impact social work practice, and that realising the potential of the CRPD will necessitate good quality training, as well as improving social workers’ knowledge of the human rights of people with mental impairment.

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