Duty of care and dignity of risk

Where’s the balance between duty of care and dignity of risk for the most vulnerable in our society?

It takes great courage for carers of people with disability to entrust others to equip the adults in their care for the world of work. Essentially, Disability Employment Services (DES) staff say to carers: ‘It’s going to be OK. All you have to do is take this huge leap of faith and we’ll catch you and your kin. You’ve got to believe me and also live with the consequences of our actions.’

It’s a big ask for anyone. But especially so for carers who have raised and protected their children from birth to adulthood. They know them and their vulnerabilities better than a DES staff member ever could.

Yet somehow we need to strike the right balance between duty of care and dignity of risk. If we don’t, people with disability are not afforded the right to their own lives. I don’t necessarily mean moving out of home, working a full-time job and spending all your money on the latest toys! I mean there are certain aspects to adult life that are appropriate for adults to decide and enact, such as choosing leisure activities, narrowing down a career path and choosing our own clothes.

In 1970s London, I risked my dignity by stepping out in a purple velour, bell-bottomed suit. So, too, should others be allowed to try things out, learn from successes and learn from mistakes. It’s a sign of maturity. In fact, this is how we learn. It's how we grow and succeed.

In time, confidence is gained through experiencing the dignity of risk. Even though we risk rejection, humiliation, even getting lost, we need to avoid what psychologist Wolf Wolfensberger called – the impoverishment of experience, where our opportunities are so limited that we do not grow.

- Martin Wren