What I hear on a regular basis is the need for less bureaucracy in Social Work. I tend to agree. I think one of the issues we face is where there is no “form” that would explain an entire situation when something happens, a new one is introduced. Then we realise there is too much to fill out so we roll back quite a bit of forms, something else happens and we put them all back in. I want to look at what we actually need in Social Work from an open and honest perspective. I will do this from my knowledge of systems and ways of working I have experienced thus far. I think it is important that the decision makers are clear about the hindrance of masses of paperwork and the reluctance of decision makers to repeal these for fear that something might be missed.
The role of Social Work is to intervene where there may be difficulties. At times this may be to prevent escalation; at other times it may be to deconstruct complex issues and reduce crisis. Social Workers give support. The International Federation of Social Workers defines Social Work as
“The social work profession promotes social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being. Utilising theories of human behaviour and social systems, social work intervenes at the points where people interact with their environments. Principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to social work.”
To this end we need to consider what tools we need in order to do our jobs effectively. We definitely need ways to evidence the work being undertaken by Social Workers with clients. Enter the life of documentation. So what’s the most important document at a Social Worker’s disposal? I would argue it is the assessment. During the assessment phase of Social Work, Social Workers are building relationships with clients and associate professionals (which includes explain your role and its limitations), gathering information from them and corroborating information with the professionals in their lives.
As such the first document Social Workers need is an assessment that is fit for purpose. The assessment we use needs to fit with the remit of the organization and needs to affords us the opportunity to record the information we need to make a determination as to whether or not our particular service is the most appropriate to provide assistance. (Wow! That was a long sentence wasn’t it?!) Once you understand where the gaps are, what type of assistance is warranted and that your organization can meet these needs it’s time to create a plan. I don’t think this should be done in isolation. In “Tiffany’s good practice guide” (stop checking amazon it doesn’t really exist – well at least not in print), a Social Worker would take the findings of their assessment back to the family and agree the goals for the plan. The Social Worker would inform the family of where they see gaps and why the organization is best placed to help the family fill them and the family can inform the Social Worker of those areas where they feel they need help. A deal can then be struck – if a Social Worker is working for a statutory agency there are some tasks that are going to be required however, this doesn’t mean you cannot help alleviate some of the concerns of the family. It is called cooperative working. They need to understand the ramifications of not undertaken certain tasks but as a professional you also need to understand that their concerns and worries are just as valid as your own, in some cases more so because quite frankly, no one cares what you want. As individuals, our primary concern is getting what we want. If you as a Social Worker can broker meeting the need I identify, I am more likely to look at what you view as a problem (not always the case, but on average most people are amiable).
*Just a note to say that assessment isn’t a singular event. Another of Tiffany’s good practice rules is to keep your eyes open. You need to be taking account of the client’s environment every time you’re in it. You need to be aware of those things that trigger changes in your clients behaviour. You need to be constantly challenging (respectfully) what you see and hear, where appropriate, when you are working with people.*
The next document we need is a plan (service, care, intervention – don’t really care what you call it) that can document the goals we want to achieve during our time working with a client and the tasks we need to complete in order to achieve those goals. The plan should afford the opportunity to record small successes so as to give our clients a “hand up”. It is difficult to go to meeting after meeting where it is said you haven’t achieved the things on your plan. It is also disheartening. We need to create as many small wins for our clients as possible so as to empower them in the process.
I would say we need a review plan as well, but I am of the opinion that would work better is a running document able to record where tasks have been completed and goals reached as well as allow you to add and amend goals and tasks as needed. (I know, that was another long one.)
As Social Workers, by the time we have gotten to formal interventions we have already done so much work with a client. Hence the need for case notes. We need to be able to record all of the interactions we have related to a client or case. This provides an evidence base. Admittedly, these are more for inspection bodies and organizations but in the age of austerity we all need to justify our existence to the powers that be. I am not one who believes that a case note needs to be verbatim. I think just the gist of the conversation and possibly any important quotes (defined as those statements you cannot paraphrase or if paraphrasing takes away from the intent of the actual statement). Your case notes are to document the contact you have with others on behalf of or about your client and maybe a few with your client between your sessions.
For your sessions, I think it is important to have an intervention/session or visit record. I think it is important that Social Workers begin to record in ways that exemplify the work we are doing. Our sessions need to be focused and addressing the plan and the referral behaviours. This will help minimize drift among cases and help us to reach goals. Part of this should also include planning for your visits. It isn’t good enough to go into a home and discuss the same issues time and again. Visits/sessions should be active with both you and client(s) participating. They should have a particular focus and finish with an outcome. Whether that outcome is that the intervention was success or that more work needs to be done in a particular area, there should be an outcome. Just to mention, interventions don’t need to be grand shows of professionalism and expertise. These will be based on the needs of your client(s). This should all be documented. So, these records should include: the purpose/goal of the session/visit, the intervention (what is it you’re planning to do in order to work toward the purpose), and the outcome including the response of your client to the intervention. Interventions can be those tasks that need to be completed in order to achieve one of the goals in the plan.
The final very important document is a transfer/closing summary. The closing summary should include the reason the case was referred to yourself, the work that has been undertaken, what has been achieved, what still needs to be achieved (if applicable), what is being done to assure the remaining needs are met (if applicable) and why it was deemed appropriate to close the case. This document can be extremely helpful. Incidentally, it works for both a transfer to a new worker or team as well as a closing summary, so you don’t need 2 different forms.
Now I know somewhere in that huge analytical brain you’re thinking – what about core group meetings, looked after children reviews, child protection plan meetings? You’re probably shouting about how I don’t know what I am talking about, but alas, you’d probably be right. However, I have a great sense of what should beand this is based on my own practice as well as the collective voices of those with whom I have worked. If you have a plan that is ongoing and amendable, then that could be your report to the chairs of any of those meetings. The only time when there would be a large difference is if there is a large change in circumstances for your client and you are looking to complete redo your assessment. At which point you’d take the assessment and the new plan. If your plan is kept up to date with all the achievements of tasks and goals, the addition of new goals as identified, the amending of current goals as needed, etc., then there would be no need for yet another report. It is about looking at the way we work and changing it to fit how we would like to work as long as it benefits the client base.
There will reports that you will have to do such as court reports, parenting assessments, care orders, etc. but for your day to day work with clients I think the above – completed and recorded properly – would serve to satisfy any organization or inspectorate. It is about the quality of what you have done, not the quantity. I think there needs to be an overhaul of the way we are working to allow us the time to do the work we would like to do. I know this is nothing new and people have been saying it for ages but I am unable to see what the barriers are to working in the simplest way while ensuring quality.