We look to courts a lot these days. It seems that not a single day goes by when courts are not featured on the national newscast. By habit-and, one hopes, still with awe-we cling to courts as a last refuge for justice. Perhaps we grasp too tightly. Courts cannot solve our problems for us. Most often, they mediate interpretations of our own indecisiveness. This is especially true regarding human services. We turn to courts to deal with one social problem after another: abortion, child and elder abuse, involuntary electroshock treatment, stalking, battered women, repressed memory, parental kidnapping. And the list goes on.
This book presents cutting-edge human services court decisions. Many different courts are represented, some of which arrive at contradictory decisions. These particular cases were selected because of their interest, timeliness, and relevance to social work practice.
It is the legal reasoning of each case that is intriguing and worthy of investigation. Investigating is done by closely examining the facts, issues, decision, and reasoning of each case. This is followed by an "implications" section. Its purpose is to give you a point of reference, a place from which to begin a discussion, not to give you "the answer."
The language lawyers use is a major obstacle, keeping social workers and lawyers from understanding one another. This book attempts to bridge the language gap. Though language may define our experiences for purposes of general thought and communication, law codifies our experiences for legal purposes. It assumes a complex set of relationships to which individuals must adjust. The nuances of law are explained and illuminated by each unique lawsuit. But the core meaning of law is derived from a previous consensus based upon generalizing, abstracting, and categorizing. Sadly, by dividing society into discrete statutes and court opinions, there is a loss of continuity. The stitching of legislative codes is not as seamless as a legislator, or a social worker, ever imagines.
Traditionally, law and social work do not have a common communications meeting ground. One leans toward arcane written exactitude, the other to speech that is emotional and intuitive. In law, the written word signals a meeting of the minds, resolution, finality. Words control and formalize relationships.
In social work, speech is paramount. When ambiguity occurs, it is discussed and contextualized but rarely documented with the specificity that law thrives on and demands. Law distinguishes only between legal and illegal, rather than between acceptable and unacceptable, or better and best. It consciously does not make distinctions except where society wants a legal separation. The subject matter common to both professions-social justice-is forcing them to work together on behalf of the same clients. To do this effectively, the professionals of each discipline must quickly learn to understand the language of the other.
Perhaps we don't realize how much law affects social work and social workers. As social work becomes more complex, law is inevitably implicated. The importance of social workers being acquainted with legal concepts cannot be understated. The more you understand how critical legal reasoning works, the better