Monthly Archives: June 2013

Assessment in Social Work

No matter what population you work with as a Social Worker, assessment is going to be critical to the work you are undertaken. Without an assessment is it difficult to know where to begin helping a client and coming up with an action plan/care plan will be even more difficult.

I went to a training session in February (2013) and we were tasked with coming up with a definition for assessment. I didn’t think this was a difficult task and was able to come up with a definition I thought to be effective, quite quickly but this was a group task and needed to be a joint venture that was agreed upon by all. I didn’t share my definition at the time because I felt that, as I said, whatever was shared should be an agreed upon definition. But, although it is not all encompassing, it is worth sharing: “assessment is the gathering of information regarding individual, group and/or family dynamics and functioning, both current and historical, for the purpose of analysis which will inform a professionals ability to provide assistance based on the function of the organization in which they are employed at the time of gather said information.” ©Tiffany Green, February 2013

Assessment will vary from agency to and agency and can be dependent upon whether or not you are working for a voluntary, non-profit, charitable or government organization. Your assessments will also vary based on the type of organization for which you work and the remit of that particular organization. No matter what the setting, an assessment should be:

– Gathering the facts

– Reporting/recording the facts as given to you

– Corroborating information as much as possible (with consent): medical, education, psychiatry, psychology, probation, police, housing, substance abuse, support services, probation/parole, youth services, youth offending, family, friends, etc.

Over the course of my career I have been trained to work with different assessment frameworks depending on the agency in which I was employed. The first framework I learned about is the bio-psycho social assessment. In clinical Social Work, the bio-psycho social assessment is considered a holistic assessment because it seeks to understand how the biology (a person’s physical functioning including any genetic, chronic or recurrent illnesses), the psychology (any psychological issues including emotional turmoil, crisis, depression, psychosis, neurosis etc.), the social factors (socioeconomic status, culture, poverty, technology, ethnicity, religion, environment etc.) and how these collectively impact a person’s ability to function.

Personally, I find this model extremely helpful and useful in medical settings (hospitals, nursing homes, treatment centers  mental health settings). That is not to say that it cannot be useful in other settings to provide a basis of how to assist a client system in addressing issues that arise in on going functioning. Bio-psycho social assessments work very well with the medical model (gathering history, coming up with a differential diagnosis, explore diagnosis, discuss treatment plans, explain possible outcomes of treatment, implement plan and review progress at regular intervals) are quite thorough and lengthy and, in many cases, may need to be done in more than one session unless you have a client that is willing to open up and sit still for a couple of hours.

Having relocated to the UK and working in statutory children’s Social Work, the assessment framework used is the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and Their Families. It says that this framework “provides a systematic way of analyzing  understanding and recording what is happening to children and young people within their families and the wider context of the community in which they live.” It is pictured as a triangle with “the child” in the centre of that triangle and three broad areas for assessment at each side, as you can see from the diagram to the left.

The framework is a very useful tool in assessing families and guiding the work we do as Children’s Social Workers. It prompts the Social Worker to look at many areas that would affect a child’s development and well-being. It also helps define those areas that are causing the family particular stress which then impacts their ability to care for, protect and safeguard their children from harm. To this model I would add in the “Parenting Capacity” component the impact of parental mental health issues, substance misuse, learning disabilities and domestic violence as these continue to be prevalent stressors in families. I think adding a section into any form where there could be a narrative about these, broadly stated, and the impact any or all have had on the children would add a very dynamic component to any assessment and give specific space to discuss this instead of Social Workers trying to find other places on the assessment in which to put this information.

I need to express that assessments are often not conducted only once. Often assessments will need to updated based on further information being given by a client/clients system, change in a client’s/client system’s circumstances or at points of significant events depending on how this will impact the work being undertaken by a Social Worker and the client/client system. You may also find that some information provided by a client is not true when undertaking your corroborations with other professionals. This will change your assessment and should be noted and challenged with the client/client system so as to provide the appropriate level of intervention.

A good resource to have in any Social Work library, in addition to a Social Work dictionary, is Where to Start, What to Ask: An Assessment Handbook by Susan Lukas. Published first in 1993 (the above link is to the updated version published in 2012), this book was crucial for me when completing my Bachelors in Social Work as well as when I started my career. Another very good book, though pricey and heavy, is The Social Work Interview by Kadushin and Kadushin. It is due to be updated this year and can be pre-ordered on Amazon. The link is from the 4th edition, which is the one I used when completing my degree. These are three books that I have retained throughout my Social Work career and I find them to be invaluable.

This is to a very good article challenging the use of the bio-psychosocial model when working with children and families.

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Posted by on June 26, 2013 in Social Work Practice


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Crossing Boundaries: Transferable Skills in Social Work

I have been working in the UK for over 5 years now and the one thing I notice is this clear line of delineation between Adult Social Work and Children’s Social Work which was not true of Social Work in NY. I feel like there is more recognition of the transferable skills of Social Workers. I think because we are trained from a Generalist perspective as undergraduates and go on to hold positions such as Caseworker, Case Manager, Case Planner and are not “Social Workers” until we have done the specialist training that a Masters Degree provides.

I have to mention though that there are many holding positions such as Caseworker, Case Planner and Case Manager that do not hold degrees in Social Work. For those particular positions, specifically in NY all that is needed is a Bachelors Degree.

Despite the above I believe that anyone calling themselves a Social Worker should possess a core set of transferable skills that should allow a Social Worker to work in either adults or children’s social work and these should be recognized by employers for those looking to make the move from children’s to adults of visa versa. What I believe distinguishes one from another is the knowledge base. This can be supplemented by agency based offered by the specific organization or population based training offered in the community by the experts in that population. The knowledge base would include legislation; service specific policy and procedures; service specific IT systems; and information regarding community based and organizational services.

The skills I feel are imperative for all Social Workers are:

Being able to ask the right questions
Being comfortable probing and digging beneath the answers given
Listening to the stories of clients
Explaining the concerns of the local authority
Explaining their service specific role and the extent to that particular involvement

Meeting people where they are
Not using jargon/Social Work speak with clients
Compromise: this means balancing:
Meeting some of the needs identified by the client/addressing some of their concerns and,
Meeting our statutory duties or the duties outlined by the organization
Working with the client not against them

Gathering the facts
Reporting/recording the facts as given to you
Corroboration: medical, education, psychiatry, psychology, probation, police, housing, substance abuse, support services, probation/parole, youth services, youth offending

Analysis: (based on facts gathered during assessment)
What are the presenting needs or risks
What are the strengths
Do the strengths mitigate the risks and why this is your view
If not, what effect will not meeting these needs/addressing the risks have on the client system

Referral to appropriate services
Based on analysis
Answering the question: how will identified needs be addressed

Inter-disciplinary/Multi-disciplinary working
Professional accountability
Valuing multi-agency expertise and contributions
Regular meetings (case conferences/coordination) as a matter of course
Incorporating all professionals in the planning

Care Planning
Based on the assessment
Actions to address identified needs
Reviewed regularly and updated
Statements as to why unmet actions not addressed
Situation and client specific

Do not write the way you speak! Unless you speak perfect English
Details of contact: exactly what happened, with whom and any follow up measures

Workload Management
Prioritizing: what’s the most immediate
Person specific (based on your own practice)
Tools: diary, to do lists, planning, diarising deadlines
Self care/self awareness
– Can you tell when it’s all becoming too much and what do you do
– Responsibility for your own professional development
– Using supervision
– Come ready with an agenda that is equally case management and equally
professional development
– Have a career plan that informs your professional development

In my opinion these are skills all Social Workers need and essentially those I have noticed that the “good” Social Workers possess. I think there is also a need for good interpersonal skills in Social Work to facilitate the work we do. I talk more about these in another post.

Social Work is one of those fields that operates at both a generalist/organic and a specialist level. Meaning, there are transferrable skills we should all possess that allow us to work with clients across the age gap as well as possess some specialist knowledge regarding the specific problems of those we serve. We need to be negotiators and politicians. We need to empower not enable. We need to assess the facts not judge based on personal feelings and biases. Most of all Social Workers need to keep their clients at the focus of their work. Keeping this in mind at all times will help you ask the questions that will get you the answers you will need to plan and get your clients access to the services they will need to thrive.

We are both Children’s and Adults Social Workers. We are after all Social Workers.
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Posted by on June 25, 2013 in Social Work Practice


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Building Relationships in Social Work

My practice has developed over the last 10+ years. What I have found is that initially, despite deadlines and pressures, my objective with a client is engagement and relationship building. The working relationship will evolve over time but having that foundation, being able to develop the relationship right from the beginning is crucial. As Social Workers I know at times we begin working with a client or clients in a crisis or emergency situation and it feels like we’ve started the relationship on the wrong foot. However, I think it’s important, if we know we are going to be a part of their lives for a long period of time to be specific about our involvement. I think making it clear from the outset that things might move a bit quickly initially because it is a crisis but that we are interested in getting to know more about them and their life circumstances, lets the client know that we are not just a whirlwind that flies in to fix things then leaves them to get on with it. I think there are times when we don’t say things because we think they are a given or that it’s just understood how things will happen. Relationship building, from the outset is critical to work that we do.

There are 20 things I have embedded into my practice to help facilitate relationship building:
1 – I ensure that I am clear about my role as a Social Worker within the organization I work
2 – I view everyone as equal and reject the idea that anyone is inherently less than anyone else
3 – I treat all of my clients the way I would want a Social Worker to treat my family should they ever needed the service
4 – I am always open with clients about what the concerns are from the perspective of the organization
5 – I am honest about what is possible and how I am able to realistically help
6 – I am transparent in sharing information and ensuring I am telling everyone the same thing
7 – I work in cooperation with families and in partnership with agencies, sharing tasks.
8 – I respect the rights, wishes and feelings of my clients
9 – I always solicit my client’s opinions and get them to express their own strengths and issues
10 – I make my clients an active part in planning to address presenting problems
11 – I form hypotheses at the start of my work but I am open to being proven wrong
12 – I admit when I don’t know something but I always find out and feedback to clients
13 – I always do what I say I will do but if I can’t I ensure I explain why
14 – I am always on time for visits, meetings, etc.
15 – I don’t judge people by standards to which I don’t hold myself (punctuality, honesty, transparency)
16 – I hold clients responsible for their futures acting as a change agent there to guide, not do everything for them
17 –I respectfully challenge discrepancies in information.
18 – I stay in contact with and visit my clients on a regular basis not just when visits or other statutory/mandatory obligations are due
19 – I take interest in who my clients are as people not just clients
20 – I view my work as a focus on helping my clients achieve the best possible outcomes for themselves and work with them to this end.

As a matter of course I am always upfront with my clients from the outset of our relationship. In the most tactful way possible I ensure they know that they have to be active parts of the professional relationship for things to change. I inform them that I will not be working harder than they are and I ensure that I tell them the consequences of non-compliance and the benefits of working with me to address not only the concerns of the organization for which I work but also access any other services they feel that they need in order to be the people they want to be.

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Posted by on June 20, 2013 in Social Work Practice


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Working with People

There are several case management principles which I feel are crucial and have been crucial to my practice. They help ensure that I am doing the best for both my clients and the organization for which I work.
a. Transparency: I make sure that clients are aware of what I am doing for them and with them as well as the information I have to share with others
b. Self- determination: I respect all of my clients’ right to make decisions for themselves
c. Empowerment: I provide my clients with the information and resources they need in order to address presenting problems and any other needs
d. Responsibility: This principle is 2 fold. I take full responsibility for the work I do with and on behalf of my clients. I make sure I do what I say I will do or inform those involved if I cannot. I also empower my clients to take responsibility for their actions and the consequences of these actions by ensuring they are making informed decisions.
e. Engagement: I take the time to get to know my clients, to meet them where they are and give them time to get to know me and how I work. I respond to their queries promptly and keep up to date with what is going on in their lives.
f. Individualization: This is my unspoken promise to my clients. I promise that I will not compare them to other clients I’ve had nor will I treat them as though they are like anyone else. I promise to treat my clients like individuals whose problems are specific to them and deserve to have their specific circumstances considered.
g. Time management: Social Work is one of those professions where it can be difficult to see to all the tasks that need to be undertaken however, time management is crucial. Setting aside time to do all the things one might need to will ensure that your work gets done.
h. Balancing paperwork and direct practice: This is self explanatory , we are in Social Work/Social Services, not admin/secretarial work. We need to be able to document the work we do with clients but more importantly is actually doing the work with clients. We need to balance the two to ensure that we are satisfying both sets of responsibilities – organizational and client.

This list is by no means exhaustive and I am sure there are things I missed but at the very base of my case management and subsequent Social Work practice are these principles which help me ensure that I am meeting my responsibilities as a Social Worker as well as working in an anti-oppressive and anti-discriminatory paradigm.


Posted by on June 14, 2013 in Social Work Practice


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I Want to Be a Social Worker

If you’re serious about becoming a Social Worker and are invested in Social Work as a career, if you’ve been a Social Worker for a long time and want to get back to your original motivations, there are several questions you should ask yourself throughout your career to make sure you’re still on track. They are also good questions to ask yourself when preparing for an interview because you train yourself how to sell your skills.

I developed and used these questions with my new supervisees to get to know them, how they work and give them an introduction into how I work.

Feel free to use the questions and feel free to provide some feedback if there are any questions you feel should be added.

1 – How do you practice? What are your professional standards?

2 – What do you see as your role:
– as a Social Worker
– in the organization
– in the team

3 – What are your professional interests?

4 – What do you think you do well?

5 – What do you think you can do better?

6 – What kind of practitioner do you strive to be?

I feel these questions are important because it keeps Social Workers in touch with why they went into Social Work, who they would like to be and how close or far are they from there. It also helps establish the management relationship. If you’re asking yourself these questions, then it keeps your goals ever present and may help combat the cynicism and complacency that can set in.

From a Manager’s perspective the following are really good to facilitate the supervision process with workers and help them to get back on track or to start off the right way:

1 – How can I/we help you become the practitioner you strive to be?

2 – How can I/we help you do your best?

3 – Tell me about your supervision history
– what helped you
– what hindered
– how did you respond at the time
– how does it influence you now

4 – What do you expect from your manager?

5 – My expectations are (examples):
– communication: let me know what is going on with your cases regularly
– open and honest feedback
– be prepared for supervision
– agenda (any issues on cases or within organization or team
– come with possible solutions/professional judgement
– come ready for discussion
– come with ideas for your own development
– take instruction as needed

6 – What are your professional goals?

I used these questions with my workers as part of the process of developing a supervision agreement. It was good because it opened the dialogue between myself and the workers. It gave me a view into their practice. As managers I would suggest going to a meeting or visit with all of your Social Workers, not to take over but to get a fuller view of how they practice and how they interact with clients.

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Posted by on June 13, 2013 in Social Work Practice


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Good Practice in Social Work is about Vanity and Theft

Starting as a student Social Worker and continuing through the first 2 years or so of practice, it is imperative to be able to see good practice modeled in the field. Becoming a good practitioner doesn’t happen through osmosis, unfortunately, and only partially comes from reading through the literature. Social Work is one of those professions that makes sense theoretically but you can never know what really works for you in practice until you’re out in the field. For me, even that wasn’t enough. For me, seeing people do the work is what helped me formulate my professional identity. We all approach a profession with our own personalities, characteristics and life experiences; all of which will influence the type of practitioner we will become. However, seeing good practitioners in action is also a great way to learn new skills. A great way to do this:

1 – Shadow other, more experienced Social Workers. Try to shadow a few different Social Workers because everyone will do it differently though they all may get the same kind of results.

2 – Pay attention to those who do it well, find out how they do it and emulate them. Imitation is still the sincerest form of flattery.

3 – Using pieces of good practice from everyone you’ve shadowed or met, create your professional self

4 – Adopt a buddy, someone whose practice you admire and respect. They will be instrumental in helping you begin to work through some of the issues you are facing in the field and may have suggestions about how to overcome them

5 – Find out what you’re good at, then become great at it. Never be afraid to acknowledge what you do well and don’t be afraid to say you don’t know as long as you outline how you intend to find out.

6 – Find ways to give back. Once you’ve become comfortable in your practice and can acknowledge the things you do well, share what you’ve learned with others by mentoring, offering shadowing opportunities, taking on a student or some other activity to help the profession progress

Being a Social Worker is about being a change agent that role can extend to your profession as well as your clients. Developing good practice standards, learning from others and allowing others to learn from you keeps the profession going and good practice spreading.

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Posted by on June 12, 2013 in Social Work Practice


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Social Work Interview Questions

There are many blogs on interviewing and some blogs on questions you can encounter in the US, however, I haven’t seen any on the type of questions one encounters when working in the UK. If you’re coming from another country the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) has a great resource on what to expect coming to practice Social Work in the UK. However, below are some questions you might encounter, some general, others specific to children’s social work in the UK. These are general thought provoking questions, many places have them formatted or asked differently.

General Questions:

1 – Why this job? Why do you work to work for (fill in name of the agency)?

2 – How are your skills, knowledge and experience relevant to the job?

3 – Current legislation and policy issues related to the post for which you are applying

4 – What would you consider when undertaking a risk assessment or assessment of need?

5 – How do you take professional responsibility and accountability for your work?

6 – How would you contribute to budget management and achieving best value for money?

7 – What pressures are you likely to encounter in the work place and what strategies do you use to address these pressures?

8 – What skills do you bring to the team?

9 – What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses?

You should be able to think through these questions and come up with coherent and relevant answers that not only showcase your knowledge but what you bring to the work environment.


Children’s Social Care Specific

1 – Steps in conducting a child protection investigation

2 – Steps involved in instituting court proceedings for children

3 – Key performance indicators for looked after children/children in care

4 – What are the 5 outcomes

5 – What skills and experience do you have working with children and families? How would these help you work with our clients?

6 – Examples of working when you worked with a challenging family/child/professional and how you overcame this or continued to work with them

7 – Examples of how you would engage the above

8 – Example of an instance where you were confronted with discrimination (in a broad sense) and what you did/how you addressed it

9 – What is your approach to professional development?

10 – How do you use supervision? What do you see as the purpose for supervision?

11 – How do you prioritize your work in a fast paced environment?

Management specific questions: (might include some of the above depending on the role)

1 – What experience have you had in management?

2 – How would you manage an under performing staff member?

3 – How would you contribute to the organizations change program? (If applicable)

4 – How do you balance your caseload with your management duties? (for Senior Practitioner roles)

5 – What strengths do you bring to this role?

6 – How would you manage supervising your peers? (if going for a promotion)

It is always worth researching as much as possible about an organization and the role for which you are applying. I would take into account people’s opinion about a place but make your own determination. It may be that an organization has a bad reputation, but that may be the best place to go if your interest is in the development of the profession or you want to develop management skills because things may be new. It may be that the organization is going through a period of change but it may be your opportunity to be exposed to a new way of working which you can take elsewhere when you’re ready to move on.

Also when looking at working in Social Work, it is worth considering whether you want to go locum or be a permanent worker.

The pros of being a permanent worker are paid sick leave, paid holiday leave, more opportunity for development and you get the opportunity to settle in. The cons are that you are locked into a notice period so any thought about moving on would have to be planned. Another pro is that if you are looking for a change and have been with an organization for a while you might be able to do this within the organization. It is a matter of discussing your professional development with your manager.

The pros of being a locum/temp worker are that you make more money and you have a greater freedom to move about because you’re not locked into a notice period. The cons are no paid leave, sick or otherwise, some boroughs don’t allow locum/temp workers to participate in certain trainings, having short bursts of employment may worry potential employers and you are expected to “hit the ground running.” Basically, you are expected to be able to do the job with very little interference. This could also be a pro if you’re the type of person that has quite a bit of experience and able to get on with the work.


Posted by on June 12, 2013 in Social Work


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