The following are tasks that I think contribute to good practice in case management. If you’re working in the US at the Masters level these may or may not be things that you would do. Chances are if you are in a clinical setting you are expected to keep records of some kind but everything on the list may not be applicable though they may be something worth looking at within your organization. If you are practicing at a Bachelors level in Social Services or are practicing in the UK these will be things you hear about on a regular basis as staples in maintaining case records, both paper and electronic.
a. Keep up to date records: This includes updating case notes/recordings (I would say weekly so as not to fall too far behind); updating contact information should your clients or anyone in their support network changes phone numbers or addresses
b. Maintain chronologies: there is much debate as to what should go into a chronology and due to the length I am giving chronologies their own post. I would say for any Social Worker/Case Worker/Case Planner/Case Manager the very first entry should be the day you were allocated the case. This informs the reader of the work for which you were responsible and attests to those things for which you cannot account because you did not hold case responsibility prior to this.
c. Current case summaries: One good practice is when updating your case notes/case recordings, maybe every 3 months or so, to update your case summary. If you do this regularly, should a case have to close or be transferred this is one less piece of work you need to complete. Another good use of case summaries, and another reason to update regularly, is if you should go on vacation/holiday, those who are left in the office have a clear understanding of the progress made on a case and where things stand at the moment of completion. This will help your colleagues to assist your clients when you are not available.
d. Regular case conferences/case coordination meetings/professionals meetings: This hasn’t been required on every job that I’ve had but I have taken the opportunity to do them anyway because it is just good practice. What you are doing is getting all the professionals involved around a table to share information and gather updates on the progress in working with the client. This works for several reasons. First, it minimizes splitting of professionals. Second, it minimizes the likelihood of duplication of services. Third, you build a professional network of people with expertise you may be able to tap into later. Fourth, you get to share information, possibly finding out things you wouldn’t have otherwise. Fifth, it solidifies professional buy in of the work being undertaken with clients. Sixth, keeps professional responsibility with each individual professional in their area of expertise, not with one particular person, usually the Social Worker. Seventh, facilitates multi-disciplinary/partnership working.
e. Partnership working: views on this may differ but for me partnership working means that all the professionals involved take responsibility for ensuring the client receives the best possible service from each individuals area of expertise. It also means that professionals agree to share information that may be pertinent to on-going work with the client. Where there are children and or vulnerable adults involved this means that every professional assumes it is their responsibility that no one is being harmed and where they are the professional will make every effort to inform the appropriate people to reduce or eliminate the harm.
f. Care planning: in any Social Work setting there will be an element of planning the work being done with a client. It is just important to make sure that all tasks are SMART – specific, measurable achievable/attainable, realistic/relevant and time limited/sensitive. Having SMART tasks makes it easier to review your plans, update your plans and gain some understanding of what is inhibiting the change process.
g. Client participation: there are times where, as Social Workers, our clients are voluntary. They come to us because they recognize the need for change in their lives and are ready to take a step. But there are other times where our clients are involuntary and they do not want us in their lives at all. It is at these times that we have to take exceptional steps to ensure they are part of the process instead of feeling oppressed and acted upon. It is difficult to achieve but not impossible. There are compromises that can be reached with compassion, understanding and authority as long as you are open and honest about your work and the consequences of non-compliance or uncooperativeness. It is easier with voluntary clients. However, in either situation it is important they are told and understand our concerns, but it is also important for us as practitioners to be able to know and understand what the clients’ concerns are and how they might address these.
h. Advocacy: once we have identified a need it is important to get a client the services needed to address the need. This may mean making a referral and chasing it up to get the appointment date so I can attend with the client (should they ask for this) or so I can follow up with a client to find out if they feel comfortable with the service being offered. Advocacy is about arguing your clients case to get them the things they need. It is also about acting on their behalf should the need arise. It is important to note that this does not mean doing things for your client. It just means that you are there to act in a professional capacity, perhaps to boost or support and application for services, to ensure the client gets what they need.
i. Assessment: this probably should have been one of the first things I mentioned but this is crucial to the work I do. Here, I go into more detail about assessments.
Doing all these things at regular interviews makes your case files (whether paper or electronic) holiday/vacation proof, sick day proof and audit proof. You will find that should auditors come calling unexpectedly you don’t have to do the last minute clean up like some of your colleagues. However, do keep in mind this does leave you open to being asked to help out with other things by managers. Hmmm…decisions, decisions.