Assessment in Social Work

26 Jun

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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