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About this book

This new textbook examines the knowledge, skills and values that underpin and inform current social work practice and processes. With a clear focus on skills, social work processes and the suitability of different methods, Watson offers students a toolkit for applying theoretical frameworks to actual practice situations.

Table of Contents

1. New Professionalism: The Challenge for Social Work Practice

Abstract
Practice that can be evidenced as ethical and effective is a central feature of modern social work. It is embraced by both the professional and policy agendas and is emblematic of social work in the twenty-first century. Like most aspirations, it is open to interpretation and refinement by workers and by the agencies in which they are employed. In this context, ethical and effective practice is frequently confused with the emerging ‘what works’ agenda (McGuire and Priestley 1995) that reflects the need to justify outcomes, not only for the service user but often in terms of value for money. Good practice, from a professional perspective, is about more than effectiveness; it is also concerned with how outcomes are achieved — the ethical. What this means is that practice that is understood to be ethical and effective is likely to be moderated through both the individual worker’s approach and the agency context. This raises issues over ‘what works’ for whom, why and in what way. For example, for front-line workers, ‘what works’ may mean meeting agency standards and government targets rather than responding to individual service users’ needs. Alternatively it may help workers to set more realistic and achievable goals, enabling those using the service to feel valued and empowered to make choices.
David Watson, Janice West, Jo Campling

2. Approaches to Practice

Abstract
Social work as a professional activity is in danger of being subsumed into the more general arena of bureaucratic ‘competence’ as managerial systems seek to exert increasing control over the workforce (Jones 2001; Lymbery and Butler 2004). It falls therefore to those engaged in the task continually to assert its unique contribution as a care profession (Beresford 2001). The social work role and task is not simply about action and good intentions, laudable and important as these are for many people who need and require support in their lives. It is also about thinking, planning and empowering those using the service and it therefore needs workers to develop a conscious awareness of their own approach to practice. This should enable workers to be aware of how their own knowledge, skills and values impinge and impact on the service user’s situation. By maintaining this level of artistry (Ruch 2000), workers are less likely solely to become caught up in the procedural imperatives of the managerial agenda. It is our view that the development of each worker’s approach to practice requires to be undertaken in a reflective and deliberate manner, as this will underpin every other aspect of professional activity and process.
David Watson, Janice West, Jo Campling

3. Assessment: Purpose, Process and Approach

Abstract
Assessment is at the heart of all good social work practice. It covers a spectrum of activities, from observation and judgments made within the context of an initial encounter through to more formal and complex frameworks of assessment. Its purpose is to enhance understanding of the service user’s situation, helping workers to identify areas for potential change that will assist the development of a rationale for future intervention. In this respect, assessment and how it is carried out will be influenced by a number of factors, including who initiated the request, the nature of the prevailing concerns, the agency’s policies and procedures and, last but not least, the worker’s approach. This latter area will influence not only what is considered important in the service users’ situation but also how they might contribute to the assessment process. Effective assessment needs workers to balance a number of competing and often conflicting demands in order that they obtain an understanding of service users and their situation.
David Watson, Janice West, Jo Campling

4. Methods of Intervention: Purpose and Process

Abstract
Methods of intervention provide theoretical underpinning and practical structure to the process of work over time with service users. They are as integral to the social work process as assessment, yet are less clearly documented in terms of the process of method selection. Arguably, in recent years methods have become less important for practitioners as social work agencies have given greater emphasis to assessment and immediate or short-term solutions (Howe 1996; Lymbery 2001). This is reinforced by the increasingly reactive nature of service provision and the perceived need for pragmatic solutions. In addition, the move towards care management has meant the use of particular methods has increasingly been located in specialist areas of service provision, thereby potentially reducing the necessity for workers to have knowledge of a range of methods. Workers’ understanding of methods of intervention has therefore often become superficial, impacting adversely on their application in practice, with workers claiming to utilise a particular method when this is not evidenced in their practice (Thompson 2000). For example, workers often claim to be utilising a task-centred method when engaged in a programme of practical tasks or cite crisis intervention as the selected method based simply on the existence of serious anxiety or concern.
David Watson, Janice West, Jo Campling

5. Methods of Intervention: Working with Presenting Issues

Abstract
For most social work practitioners, developing a portfolio of methods tends to be a rather pragmatic activity influenced by professional training, the exigencies of the agency and the individual worker’s approach to practice. While developing a range of methods may be a complex activity within the current practice context, it does provide workers with a structured rationale for intervention. We have chosen to consider the purpose and process of a small number of methods in order that readers may select those which they consider relevant to their situation. Our intention is to introduce the reader to each of the selected methods, providing as we go some useful reference points for further study. Our primary aim is to encourage readers to explore these methods by arguing that it is the approach of the worker that impacts significantly on the process of intervention and its potential outcomes for the service user. The choice of methods for any text has to be fairly arbitrary. The methods in this and the following chapter have been selected because we consider them to be those most commonly used in social work settings. We accept that this is an assumption on our part, as there has been little research on the relative utilisation of different methods.
David Watson, Janice West, Jo Campling

6. Methods of Intervention: Working on Feelings

Abstract
The two methods chosen for consideration in this chapter are the psychosocial method and crisis intervention. In contrast to the previous chapter, the emphasis here is on the impact of previous life experiences on actions and perceptions of present situations. While crisis intervention is still often claimed to be used by workers, the psychosocial method would appear to have lost its popularity in recent years. It may, however, be a bit premature to assume that this method is obsolete. Many of its constituent elements continue to be part of the practice repertoire of workers, enabling them to understand and work with those service users whose chaotic lifestyles do not seem to change, despite the extensive use of short-term methods. When discussing the potential use of the two methods, we feel it is important to consider the issue of evidencing practice. We are in no doubt that workers should as far as possible be able to justify their intervention by demonstrating its effectiveness. This activity, however, has considerable limitations for social work, as many aspects of the service do not lend themselves to measurement, the quality of relationships and feelings being two difficult areas to quantify and measure (Drummond 1993).
David Watson, Janice West, Jo Campling

7. Selecting Methods

Abstract
Methods of social work intervention, as has been discussed in previous chapters, are the main means by which workers manage the process of work over time, providing structure and purpose for all involved. To utilise methods, workers need to be clear about their strategic response to the needs of service users, both expressed and implicit, in order to plan and intervene appropriately. Selecting a method of intervention is therefore more than a mere technical process of information-gathering and form-filling to achieve a desired outcome. As Milner and O’Byrne (2002) acknowledge, it requires synthesising the analysis and understanding of the service user and the worker with the mandate of the agency providing the service. Therefore, methods of intervention take place within a context that constrains and confines the available options and is rarely straightforward. Through negotiation, the competing demands of all parties must be considered and the basis for anti-oppressive practice established. This is rarely a simple activity, as the boundaries between perspectives are often not fully articulated. For example, the control requirement of the criminal justice process may at first glance be entirely at odds with the welfare aspirations of the worker, yet both perspectives are likely to be implicit in the discussion with the service user when deciding upon an appropriate method of intervention. Nevertheless, workable plans have to be developed if change is to occur for service users and the selection of an appropriate method can often be the key to ensuring co-operation and participation.
David Watson, Janice West, Jo Campling

8. Reflection and Supervision

Abstract
The content of this text so far has focused on the nature and process of social work intervention and the role of the worker therein. This chapter begins to explore the means by which workers develop their abilities to reflect upon their intervention within a structured environment. It is important for workers to be able to take a step back from their practice and begin to identify any patterns that may emerge, lessons that can be learned, adjustments that need to be made. In this way, past experiences, formal knowledge and learning, including policies and procedure, are critically built upon to develop present and future practice. This learning from experience is the aim of reflective practice, as workers openly and honestly re-evaluate their work. As has been examined elsewhere in this text, the workers’ approach to practice will inform and shape their understanding of the situation, which in turn will shape their reflection in relation to how they name and frame the problem (Schön 1987).
David Watson, Janice West, Jo Campling

9. Evaluation of Practice: Learning for the Future

Abstract
Social work practice is increasingly rooted in the need to justify intervention in terms of effectiveness and efficiency and whether value for money has been achieved. For most workers this becomes enmeshed in audited systems of measuring the tangible outcomes of service delivery. It is about demonstrating the extent to which agency targets have been achieved — which may be very different from the service experienced by the user. However, whilst part of the managerial agenda, evaluation is also integral to good professional practice, enabling workers to learn from their experiences and to enhance the quality of service being delivered. Given the potential scope for discussion about the concept of evaluation, this chapter seeks to focus on the impact of evaluation on the work of individual practitioners as they interact with service users. It is not about research per se but rather is focused on the more reflective aspects of evaluation.
David Watson, Janice West, Jo Campling

10. Conclusion: Approaches to Practice and Modern Social Work

Abstract
As a socially constructed and contested occupation, social work is influenced by a myriad of factors that need to take account of the perspectives of the service user, worker, agency and society (Payne 1997). What this means for individual workers is that the backdrop to their practice will be influenced and constrained by the prevailing discourses about how social work should be organised and what it aims to achieve. The dominant discourse within the public and social services is that of managerialism related to the so-called ‘modernisation agenda’, with its claim to make services more competitive, efficient and customer-focused (Clarke and Newman 1997). Key to these developments is an ‘agenda for action’ which requires the development of plans and targets with specific dates for completion (Mitchell 2000). In the context of this narrative, two key concepts have been central to the debate about change: managers and markets. According to James (1994, p. 56), in this managerial discourse public organisations, including social services, ‘are or should be, orderly set-ups where the best people are at the top and where everybody knows their place. Managing is primarily about achieving task, and the good manager is the one who directs people clearly and objectively to achieve that task.’
David Watson, Janice West, Jo Campling
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