Language and Jargon in Social Care

Language is a very powerful tool and a good understanding of language is very empowering. If you have ever been to another country where you didn’t understand the language, you will understand how difficult it can be to find your way around. Many people in the field of social care feel like that right now. As part of what has become known as the professionalisation agenda, social care seems to have developed a language all of its own. If people don’t have a clear understanding of this language they will find it very difficult to navigate the world of social care.

Social care workers are increasingly working with people from a wide range of other professions – health care, housing, education, security and justice….. the list goes on. Each of these professions has also developed a language of its own making it even harder to find a way round the social care sector.

In addition to various professions having their own words and phrases, the NVQ Framework also seems to have a language all of its own. This has commonly become known as “NVQ speak”.

The British Government over the last few years appears to have been suffering from what has been called “initiativitis”. That is, the Government has created a range of organisations working in the care sector and has produced a range of initiatives affecting the delivery of social care. Many of these organisations and initiatives have resulted in further new words and phrases finding their way into the language of social care.

In 1926 the French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery famously said “language is the source of most understandings”. That has never been more true in the field of social care.

Abbreviations are perhaps what most of us think of when we think of the word “jargon”. Abbreviations in social and health care tend to be put together as a form of shorthand. Such jargon however, leads to perhaps the most dangerous form of misunderstandings. Do we all use the same shorthand? For example:-

** DOA can either be taken to mean “date of admission” or “dead on arrival”.
** CPR can either refer to the child protection register or a form of resuscitation
** NFA can be taken to mean “no fixed abode” or “no further action”.

The list is endless. Imagine the confusion that can be caused!

Issues around the use of anti-oppressive language have become much more prominent in recent years. The language we use can exclude and offend people (often accidentally). The language that we use reflects our own value base and therefore must receive careful attention in order to demonstrate an active commitment to anti-oppressive practice.

The subject of discriminatory or oppressive language is a complex one – and people can tie themselves in knots trying to work this out. Sometimes issues around language that aims not to discriminate is described as “political correctness” or “a play on words” and is dismissed. However, language is a living tool which grows and changes to reflect broader shifts and changes in society. Seeking to use language which is inclusive and anti-oppressive is vital.