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About this book

The role of the social worker is to be found lying interestingly between society and the individuals they work with. As a result, social workers often feel pulled between the demands and challenges that each presents. The Compleat Social Worker explores the many debates the profession enjoys, including those between nature and nurture, care and control, thought and feeling, art and science, facts and values. In examining these ideas and the discussions they sponsor it celebrates social work's rich heritage of scientific thought and human relationships. It is out of these many divisions and disagreements and their resolution that the idea of the well-rounded, compleat social worker emerges.

For those wishing to explore and enjoy, argue and acknowledge what it is to be a good social worker, this elegant book will prompt lively interest and debate.

Table of Contents

1. The Individual and Society

Looking Both Ways in Social Work
People, as individuals, take note of what is expected of them by society. They have responsibilities to raise children safely and well, to work if they are healthy and fit, to care for those who are vulnerable and dependent. Most people behave within the law.
David Howe

2. Order and Change

The Purpose of Social Work
Much of the legislation and policy that underpins social work is the result of people who have felt bothered, even outraged about some injustice, unfairness, or deprivation. These are people who have turned private troubles into public concerns.
David Howe

3. Care and Control

The Tasks of Social Work
As we saw in the previous chapter, since its beginnings in the nineteenth century, social work has been concerned with, on the one hand, people’s quality of life, and on the other, their social behaviour.
David Howe

4. Bureaucrats and Professionals

How Social Workers are Organized and Operate
To be told you are being bureaucratic is not usually meant as a compliment. Being professional, on the other hand, carries more than a hint that you are behaving intelligently, independently, and well. Social workers aspire to be professionals but very often find themselves dismissed as bureaucrats. Much of what social workers do hovers interestingly, even awkwardly between following the rules and thinking on your feet. To be a good bureaucrat is to follow the rules. A good professional has no problem thinking on her feet.
David Howe

5. Certainty and Uncertainty

How Social Work Decisions are Made
Increasingly, social work, along with most other professions, is having to account for its actions. There has also been a steady shift away from an immediate concern to meet client needs to a more general preoccupation with risk and protection (Cree and Wallace 2009). This has pushed the profession and its organizations towards practices which can be measured and accounted for. If a practice cannot be audited and measured, it has a hard time justifying itself. Even more perverse are the attempts by governments and organizations to improve effectiveness and efficiency by setting targets and measuring performance. ‘A measure is a dangerous tool,’ warns Skidelsky (2014: 7), ‘for it tends to take the place of whatever it measures.’
David Howe

6. Objects and Subjects

People’s Inner and Outer Worlds
Although there are many examples of early civilizations trying to make sense of the world by approaching it rationally (the Greeks, medieval Arabic cultures), much human thought up until the Age of Enlightenment in the seventeenth century believed the world was preordained and God-given. The truth of things could be found in holy texts, which is to say the word of God, whomsoever your God happened to be. This meant that there wasn’t much enquiry into the whys and wherefores of nature, or indeed human conduct. Neither objective enquiry nor subjective reflection would reveal the truth of human being and human behaviour. The world was just as it is, divinely ordained, and you accepted your place in it without question.
David Howe

7. Qualitative and Quantitative

The Compleat Social Worker
As we noted in chapter 4, all professions seek to develop a ‘body of knowledge’. This knowledge tells the profession things about the world with which it has to deal. Medicine develops knowledge about the body, disease, illness, and health. It also builds up knowledge about what kind of medical interventions are likely to be effective in treating illness and disease and which bring about good health. Similar observations can be made about the knowledge base of engineers, clinical psychologists, and nurses.
David Howe

8. Thought and Feeling

How Social Workers Can Best Respond
Over the years, the classic divide between thought and feeling has been reflected not only in social work but also in counselling and psychotherapy. Casework based on psychodynamic principles and relationship-based approaches has a keen sense of the part that emotions play in our thoughts, behaviour, and development. Strong feelings crop up whenever we are threatened or confused, under stress or not in control, unloved or abandoned, accepted or rejected. Social workers therefore need to recognise and understand the part that emotions play in relationships. Helping clients recognise and manage their feelings brings about insight and control.
David Howe

9. The Past and the Future

What Should Be the Focus of Social Work?
Social work has had an on—off relationship with the past. There is a good case to be made that the best way clients can sort out problems in the present is for them to revisit and resolve problems in the past. If they can get past hurts and pains sorted, these old feelings no longer have the power to disturb the present.
David Howe

10. Nature and Nurture

How to Make Sense of Human Behaviour
Are we born the way we are? Or is it experience that shapes us?
David Howe

11. Art and Science

The Craft of Social Work
Social work has long aspired to be an applied science. As we have seen in earlier chapters, envying the professional status of medics and clinical psychologists, like them, there has been a determination by many that its practices should be evidence-based. There is a strong argument that social workers should try to do what has been shown to work. Ideally, only those interventions which have proven to be effective should be chosen. After all, if medical patients expect their treatments to be based on the best medical evidence, then shouldn’t clients expect similar evidence-based findings to underpin what social workers do?
David Howe

12. Good Relationships and Working Well

How to Practise Empathically and Effectively
The claim that mental health lies in getting the balance right between being and doing, relationships and creativity, love and work has been made many times. Among others, credit for this sentiment has been given to Sigmund Freud and Erik Erikson, although Erikson (1950) went on to suggest the fullest, richest lives are those that enjoy a happy balance between love, work, and play. Thus, for Jones (1974), love and work are the cornerstone of our humanity.
David Howe

13. Freedom and Equality

How to Balance Individual Choice and the Collective Good
In these final stages in our quest to find the compleat social worker, we need to engage with some of social work’s more profound political and philosophical challenges. In this chapter and the next, we consider how social workers have recognised the fundamental role that politics and philosophy, ideology and values play in everyday practice. We begin with two major concepts — freedom and equality — that tend to pull thinking and practice in opposite directions, not just for social workers but for social policy and political theorists alike.
David Howe

14. Facts and Values

What is Known and What Ought to be Done
If they are to do their job well, social workers need to know many things, including lots of facts. They need to know facts about the law and facts about departmental policies and procedures. They need to gather facts about clients’ situations and compile facts by enquiring, observing, and researching. When they go to court or write a report or apply for a resource, they will be asked to present the facts of the case.
David Howe

15. On the Whole and Taking Everything into Consideration

We are now getting close to our idea of the compleat social worker. The previous 14 chapters have been looking at some of the divisions that have pulled social work apart. But rather than look for a simple reconciliation between the two sides, we have gone for synergy. Nature interacting dynamically with nurture offers far more possibilities than simply arguing that perhaps both views have merit. Feelings inform thought every bit as much as thought helps manage feelings. Social work’s techniques can only take hold if there is a social work relationship.
David Howe

16. The Compleat Social Worker

We began the book by recognising that social workers practice in the middle ground, between the individual and society. They need to know something of individuals and their psychological make-up. They need to know something of the social context and environment in which clients live their lives. Practitioners work with people on the margins, who are vulnerable, disadvantaged, and failing to cope. They meet the troubled and troublesome. They face inequality and injustice.
David Howe
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