Duty of Care vs Dignity of Risk

Apr 17, 2022

Duty of Care vs Dignity of Risk

Is there a conflict between our duty of care and the dignity of risk?

This month we have been talking about the dignity of risk, the right of all people to make choices and even make mistakes. But, say many good-hearted educators, what about my duty of care for my students?

Duty of care refers to the educator’s responsibility to provide a person with a safe environment. Particularly when working with people of all abilities, we must take precautions to accommodate the mental and physical challenges of those under our care. On the surface it would appear that duty of care and dignity of risk are mutually exclusive, existing on opposite ends of a linear system.  

Duty of care does mean having systems in place to limit risks, but not at the detriment of a person’s right to decision-making. Instead of how risk can be avoided, educators should think about how they could support someone to do what they wanted to safely. If we really examine this closely, dignity of risk is a key component of duty of care, and the two can most certainly work together in harmony. 

We can reframe these concepts of care and risk in our schools.  Educators are in roles to empower those under their care to make their own decisions, learn and grow. It’s up to us to provide our students with complete information so that they can exercise their dignity of risk. 

“Freedom to make choices, even choices that may result in harm, is a freedom that most people cherish. Freedom of choice is one of the highest American ideals.”
-Burton Blatt
Advocate of deinstitutionalization and inclusive education
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