Laura Etkin
At Renaissance Legal we work with a range of external experts to ensure our clients have access to the right specialist skills and advice that will benefit their case and personal circumstances. This month, we are pleased to welcome Senior Social Worker Laura Etkin, BA (Hons) SW, BIA (DoLS), to the Renaissance Legal blog to explain her role as a Mental Capacity Assessor and what it entails.

About me

When I qualified as a social worker (2007), I was lucky enough to be training whilst they were implementing the Mental Capacity Act 2005. Beyond what we were learning from lecturers, we were also attending all the training put out by Brighton & Hove County Council for Social Services. Honestly, maybe I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but I now realise the ways it has helped me to become an expert in my field. I later qualified as a Best Interest Assessor when the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) were put in place to protect people in line with the Human Rights Act. It all sounds very legal, but parents of SEN children and young people are more than familiar with these bits of statute. I know, because I’m one of them! I like to refer to us as ‘Tiger Parents’ because we have to be.

My personal experience of parenting a child with special educational needs through the system, and all the heartache, fighting to get everything your child needs, and frustration that that brings, has brought me a particular insight into the challenges faced by children, young people, and their parents.

What does my role as a Mental Capacity Assessor involve?

In the simplest terms, the work I do with Renaissance Legal usually involves assessing a person’s capacity to get the support that will protect them long term.

In my role as a Mental Capacity Assessor, I work with people with a range of issues that impact, or potentially, impact their cognition.

We always assume capacity, but when putting in place Lasting Powers of Attorney, for example, we have to assess that the Donor knows what they’re signing up to. We want Donors to have Lasting Powers of Attorney, because it’s an excellent way of ensuring they’re safe, but not excluded from decision making. But, before we hand someone power over another person’s finances or daily lives, we have to ensure that they know what they’re signing up to.

I also assess all sorts of other decisions. For example, Capacity to Gift, Capacity to Make a Will (Testamentary Capacity), and any other big decision you can think of, where a vulnerable person might need support.

What happens when you are asked to arrange a Capacity Assessment?

The process usually starts once the Client has met with the Legal Advisor and discussed the legal steps that can be taken to protect themselves or their loved one’s future. I then gather as much information as possible from families so that I can form a personalised questionnaire. The main questions are always the same, but what motivates and interests each client helps me to make the process as enjoyable, and even fun, as possible.

Families are often in a much better position to spend time supporting someone to understand the decisions they need to make because families know how to communicate with their loved ones and have years of experience understanding what motivates the person being assessed. The information provided by families is invaluable and helps me quickly build rapport with the person I am assessing.

To get this information, I send out a Client Referral Form for completion. I give ideas about the sort of thing I need to know to form a questionnaire, but information about a person’s work or interests gives a much better picture. I’m always happy to have a chat on the phone if families find this easier.

What sort of people and families do I work with?

  • For younger people, with learning disabilities or Acquired Brain Injury

Usually, parents have struggled to navigate the system in order to get the support their child or young adult needs. In my experience, parents have become ‘experts’ in their children’s needs, and this amazing resource makes my job a lot easier.

It is often the young people with mild to moderate learning disabilities, who have less access to services, that are the ones who find themselves in tricky situations financially, because they have a lot more freedom to make mistakes, and are more likely to come into contact with risky people. Lasting Powers of Attorney give the best balance between empowerment and protection. They allow Donors to choose who they would like to act on their behalf, which is empowering. But they are still able to make decisions within the safety of the Mental Capacity Act framework, ensuring that they are included and central to decisions made about their lives. Including the person, as much as possible, promotes self-determination, control, and autonomy, and this ultimately has been shown to raise self-esteem for people who have faced difficulties throughout their lives in terms of struggling to succeed independently, or with support.

  • Working with Adults in Later Life

My work with older people is usually centred around protecting them financially, and ensuring that families or close friends have the ‘loudest’ voice when it comes to making decisions about that person’s life.

My view is that those who self-fund their care, get a bit of a raw deal from Social Services. Very often families are handed a catalogue of care homes in the area. It’s then up to you to choose which one, despite not fully understanding what each type of home provides, and whether or not your family member needs it. In these circumstances, I undertake a Care & Wellbeing Assessment, which identifies the specific type of care the person needs. If you also need support to find the right home, I can help with this too.

What are the challenges?

It can be a challenge for me if the person being assessed has not been given the opportunity to learn about LPAs before I meet them for the Assessment. I provide a Worksheet to support families in explaining LPAs to the Donor. If a Donor hasn’t really had the opportunity to learn what an LPA is, I wouldn’t consider it fair to assess their knowledge of them. I’ve tried to make this as simple as possible, and always reassure everyone that you don’t have to know the Mental Capacity Act in and out to be able to make a Lasting Power of Attorney.  I can provide Worksheets and an idea of the questions I will ask to support people to prepare for the Assessment.

How does my work fit in with other professionals?

My clients’ first point of contact is usually from a Legal Advisor who has already met with the person and spent time discussing their needs. Private Client solicitors have a huge knowledge base with years of experience working with vulnerable adults.  I find it really helpful when my legal professional colleague share information with me about their initial meetings with clients.

What does the Assessment process look like?

My meetings with clients usually last between half an hour and two hours. This is still a snapshot of a person’s life. If I’m working with young people, I will often ask to see other professionals’ reports or speak to people in education settings.

With older people, perhaps living in care homes, I will speak to the family, the Home Manager and the carers to find out the sorts of decisions the person is able to make for themselves. People who work with the individual day-to-day can provide me with a much broader insight into the Donor’s capacity.

What do I find most rewarding about my work?

Most professionals would probably say the same, which is working with people. If you go into social work it is usually because you love learning about people and supporting them to achieve their goals in life. I always try to find out what interests the person so that I can engage them with a topic that not only motivates them to speak with me but makes the process as much fun for them as possible.

If you or your family member already know that the person wanting to arrange legal protection for their future might be living with an impairment or disturbance in the functioning of the mind, that could potentially affect their capacity to make decisions, you can anticipate that a solicitor supporting you will need confirmation of capacity before putting legal arrangements in place. This is best practice for solicitors who want to ensure that anything signed meets the legal capacity requirements. Alternatively, you may have an initial discussion with your solicitor who will advise you that before proceeding a capacity assessment is needed.

How can I help?

Once you have established that a capacity assessment is needed, you can either contact me directly on 0783 332 8062 at Independent Social Work (Hove) Ltd, and we can discuss the circumstances and start the process of organising the assessment, or your solicitor can contact me on your behalf. There is no charge for the initial discussion with me, and hopefully, I can reassure you about the process.

Laura Etkin BA(Hons)SW, BIA

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