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About this book

This new and fully updated edition of a hugely popular textbook is a practical and user-friendly guide that lets students know what to expect from their course and will be there every step of the way as a reference tool. Written by experts in the field, the book guides the reader through from their academic study on social work courses to entering the field as a practitioner.

The Social Work Companion is the essential survival guide for students on qualifying courses in social work and a helpful resource for experienced practitioners.

Table of Contents

Studying Social Work

Frontmatter

Chapter 1.1. Your Social Work Course

This chapter is entitled ‘Your social work course’ for a reason. While thousands of people will make their way through the same course or programme that you are undertaking, or very similar ones, the journey itself will be unique to you. Programme designers and presenters will take on the responsibility for teaching on social work courses and you will have support along the way from a variety of sources, as we shall discuss later. However, none of these people will carry the responsibility for the learning that will take place — that will be down to you and you alone. This may seem obvious to some, but it is a point that cannot be overstressed. Learning simply cannot be done for you.
Neil Thompson, Sue Thompson

Chapter 1.2. Maximizing Your Learning

There will always be more out there to learn than time available to learn it — not just as a student, but as a practitioner — being a professional worker means being a lifelong learner. It is not a case of having to do your job and learn as well — they should be part and parcel of the same thing. It is because the process of learning will figure so prominently from now on that we have called this section ‘maximizing your learning’. What follows is a quick overview of some of the sources on which you will be able to draw, and some tips which you may find useful.
Neil Thompson, Sue Thompson

Chapter 1.3. Law, Politics and Society

It is essential to recognize that social work is shaped and constrained by a number of powerful forces. In this chapter, we shall explore three of these in particular, namely the law, politics and society. We shall examine how the law affects what we can and cannot do in certain circumstances, how it provides a legal framework and a fundamental basis for our work. Here we shall discuss the broad issues relating to the role of the law, but more specific discussion will be found in Chapter 2.5. We shall explore the political framework and the power of politicians and political actions to shape policy and practice. We shall also consider how social norms, values and expectations, public opinion and the role of the media can all have an impact on social work. Finally, we shall explore the key concept of professionalism — an increasingly significant topic in contemporary social work.
Neil Thompson, Sue Thompson

Chapter 1.4. Conclusion

In Part 1 of the book we have tried to ‘set the scene’ by covering some of the key issues involved in ‘Studying social work’. We have explored the important contextual underpinnings of social work by briefly examining the role of law, politics and society in shaping social work practice. We have also explored what you can expect from a course of professional training as part of seeking to become a qualified social worker and, linked to this, we have suggested ways in which you can usefully attempt to maximize your learning — both while you are studying formally and, indeed, throughout your career as part of a commitment to continuous professional development.
Neil Thompson, Sue Thompson

Backmatter

Core Topics

Frontmatter

Chapter 2.1. Social Work Processes

Social work operates at the point where people interact with other people. That ‘space between people’, as Hopkins (1986) refers to it, is therefore of crucial importance, and yet what goes on there is not always obvious, unless we are particularly concentrating, or there is something such as conflict which throws it to the forefront of our consciousness. If we were to be acutely aware of every process that occurs every time people come together, then it would become very difficult to function, and so we tend to take a lot of things for granted. The human brain is very adept at filtering out what is not considered important for present purposes as we go about our day-to-day business.
Neil Thompson, Sue Thompson

Chapter 2.2. The Social Context

In social work it is extremely important to recognize that we are dealing with individuals in a social context, as to fail to do so means that we are adopting too narrow a perspective that does not take account of very important issues, such as power, discrimination and so on. It is therefore important to incorporate an understanding of the significance of sociology as an academic discipline that provides insights into the work that we undertake. In particular, it is significant to remember the insights of Durkheim, one of the founders of sociology, who made the point that society precedes each individual (Giddens, 2013). In other words, each of us is born into a society that already exists and which is therefore bound to have an influence on us. We must never forget that the term ‘social work’ begins with the word ‘social’ — that is, it is not simply a matter of dealing with psychological issues. The tendency to reduce sociological matters to psychology is known as ‘psychologism’. This can be a major problem, in so far as it can lead to what is known as ‘blaming the victim’ (Ryan, 1971). That is, individuals are blamed for matters that owe more to their social circumstances than to their own particular actions or characteristics. For example, someone who is living in poverty may be regarded as being poor because they are assumed to be ‘lazy’, even though the roots of their poverty are to be found in the economic and sociopolitical systems, rather than in the individual’s character, temperament or level of motivation.
Neil Thompson, Sue Thompson

Chapter 2.3. Human Development

Human existence is, of course, not static. People are growing and changing all the time. It is very important for social workers to be aware of this and how it can be relevant to practice. We need to make sure that we do not fall into the trap of seeing people as fixed entities who ‘are what they are’, as this is far too simplistic an understanding of people. Because changes and developments take place slowly over time for the most part, it is very easy to make the mistake of assuming that change is not taking place. It is therefore important to understand the people we work with are growing, developing people, moving and changing over time. This takes us a long way from traditional notions of a person having a fixed personality or character.
Neil Thompson, Sue Thompson

Chapter 2.4. The Organizational Context

Social workers work in and through organizations — that is, while we have a degree of relative autonomy, we are, to a large extent, constrained by the organizations that employ us. It is important to have an understanding of how organizations can affect practice because:
1
organizations can undermine good practice, as we shall see below; and
 
2
organizations can harm staff, in the sense of causing stress or distress, undermining confidence, damaging career prospects, and so on.
 
It is therefore important to recognize that we need to understand at least the basics of organizational dynamics, how to survive them and how to influence them.
Neil Thompson, Sue Thompson

Chapter 2.5. Law and Policy

In the introduction to Part 2, the importance of the law as an underpinning factor for social work practice was discussed. We now return to this topic to examine it in more detail alongside the equally important subject of social policy. The law and policy are closely intertwined and both act as a bridge between the wider governmental and social framework and actual practice. This chapter also acts as a bridge; this time between the general introduction to this topic provided in Part 2 and a wider, more in-depth, specialist literature, details of which are to be found in the ‘Suggestions for further reading’ at the end of this part of the book.
Neil Thompson, Sue Thompson

Chapter 2.6. The Value Base

We have already likened social work training and, indeed, your social work career, to a journey. On this journey you will constantly be discovering things about yourself and about the way the world around you operates. Values will have already played a big part in your life, although you may not always been aware of it. If you have not thought much about the value base which underpins your thoughts and actions, then you are probably in the majority. It is not something which tends to crop up in conversation, and it is in the nature of values that they operate beneath the surface, rarely becoming explicit or obvious.
Neil Thompson, Sue Thompson

Chapter 2.7. Reflective Practice

Reflective practice has become a very influential subject in social work education in recent years. However, it is not a new idea. One of the recognized founders of reflective practice, Donald Schön, wrote a key text on the subject that was published as long ago as 1983. What is new, though, is the importance that has been attached to this concept. Educators and practitioners alike are increasingly becoming aware of how significant an idea it is; how helpful it can be in promoting good practice and continuous learning. While some writers (for example, Ixer, 1999) are sceptical of the value of reflective practice, there is much to commend it as a way forward.
Neil Thompson, Sue Thompson

Chapter 2.8. Conclusion

Part 2 of the book has been concerned with ‘Core topics’. Our choice of what we consider to be core topics is, of course, a reflection of our own approach to social work — and no doubt, other authors, with different approaches, may have chosen different topics to be regarded as ‘core’. But, even within our own frame of reference, we would not wish to claim that the topics discussed here are the only important ones. We do, however, have to be realistic about space restrictions. This is a lengthy book, but it could easily have been twice as long, and so we have had to make difficult decisions about what to leave out.
Neil Thompson, Sue Thompson

Backmatter

Key Terms and Concepts

Frontmatter

Chapter 3.1. Introduction

In this part of the book we provide short explanations of over 100 key terms and concepts commonly used in social work. If you wish to know more about a particular item featured here, please note that many, but not all, of the terms and concepts discussed feature in the ‘Suggestions for further reading’ section at the end of this part of the book, where you will be able to find recommendations for further reading. Some entries make reference to other items in Part 3: these are highlighted in bold.
Neil Thompson, Sue Thompson

Chapter 3.2. Terms and Concepts

We present the ideas in alphabetical order to prevent anyone assuming that the order in which they are presented represents any sort of hierarchy or set of priorities. We have tried to present the ideas clearly and helpfully, but of course, given the short space available for each one, that is a very difficult task. We have sought to do the best we can in the circumstances.
Neil Thompson, Sue Thompson

Backmatter

Key Theories

Frontmatter

Chapter 4.1. Introduction

Social work practice is based on an extensive knowledge base developed over a considerable number of years. That knowledge base comprises not only ‘practice wisdom’ passed from generation to generation, but also theoretical understandings and related research findings. We shall examine the importance of research as an underpinning of practice in Part 5, but here our concern is with the important role of theory in providing an understanding of the complex issues we face in practice and the various ways we can attempt to address those issues. As we noted in Chapter 2.7 when discussing reflective practice, theory is an important basis of practice and one that we neglect at our peril. Developing a good understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of contemporary social work is therefore an important task. This part of the book is intended to assist you in that task.
Neil Thompson, Sue Thompson

Chapter 4.2. Theories and Theorists

The 22 areas of theory are presented in alphabetical order to prevent any significance being attached to the relative merits of the ideas being presented according to the order in which they appear. Naturally, we are more sympathetic towards some ideas and perspectives than others, but we have none the less tried to be fair in how we have presented all the theories. In the limited space available to us we cannot realistically present a thorough introduction to the various theoretical frameworks discussed here. We have to settle for the more modest aim of presenting a short summary to give a ‘flavour’ of the particular approach. This should give you enough to begin to appreciate what each perspective has to offer and thus give you a foundation on which to develop a fuller and deeper knowledge over time.
Neil Thompson, Sue Thompson

Chapter 4.3. Conclusion

Part 4 cannot, of course, provide a detailed and comprehensive account of the theoretical underpinnings of social work. Our aim has been the much more modest one of providing a ‘taster’ of various aspects of the wide range of ideas and frameworks that inform social work practice across various settings. We hope that you have found our offerings both interesting and useful.
Neil Thompson, Sue Thompson

Backmatter

Drawing on Research

Frontmatter

Chapter 5.1. Why is Research Important?

In Chapter 2.7 the discussion of reflective practice emphasizes the importance of linking day-to-day practice to our professional knowledge base. Much of this professional knowledge base comes from a tradition of research. If we are to promote reflective practice, we therefore need to have an understanding of what research is, how it influences our work and the dangers of neglecting the research dimension.
Neil Thompson, Sue Thompson

Chapter 5.2. Understanding Research Methods and Process

If we are to develop a good and useful understanding of research, then it is important that we are not afraid of it, that its tendency to provoke anxiety is dealt with. It is to be hoped that this chapter can play a part in that by providing an overview of what is involved in research and, in that way, demystifying it to a certain extent.
Neil Thompson, Sue Thompson

Chapter 5.3. Incorporating Research into Practice

The whole of Part 5 of the book has been geared towards emphasizing the importance of research. In this chapter, our aim is to draw links between the world of research and the world of actual practice. We therefore concern ourselves with looking at how social work practice can actually draw upon the benefits associated with a research base. As we noted in relation to evidence-based practice in Chapter 5.1, there are clear dangers associated with going about our important business in social work without at least some reassurance that there is a positive benefit to be gained from our actions. We owe it to the people we serve, our profession and to ourselves, to make sure that what we offer is based as fully as possible on a well-informed approach, and this clearly involves being able to draw upon the wealth of research that applies to social work and related matters.
Neil Thompson, Sue Thompson

Chapter 5.4. Conclusion

The use of research is certainly no panacea. However, there is no doubt considerable scope for making greater use of the insights that research can offer us. As we noted earlier, it has long been recognized that social work practice needs to be informed practice — we do our clients a considerable disservice if we simply base our efforts to help them on habit, routine, guesswork and copying others rather than on research-minded practice as part of a broader commitment to reflective practice. We therefore need to take the research dimension of social work very seriously and give it the attention that it deserves. This means getting past the anxiety about research that is commonly encountered and ‘demystifying’ the subject so that we can all feel more confident in tackling it and drawing on the benefits it has to offer. It is to be hoped that our discussions in Part 5 will have played at least a small part in demystifying research and thus taking away some of the anxiety that can discourage people from embracing the research world.
Neil Thompson, Sue Thompson

Backmatter

Career Pathways

Frontmatter

6.1. Career Opportunities Across Settings

Career opportunities in social work can be divided up into various categories. For example, some people draw a distinction between social work itself and social care, with the latter including careers in, for example, residential work. There is also a distinction to be drawn between social work and community justice work. At one time working with offenders (whether adult offenders or youth offenders) was clearly seen as part of social work. However, developments in the last decade or so have led in some areas (in England and Wales, for example, but not in Scotland or Northern Ireland) to an increasing separation of community justice issues from the mainstream of social work, although many people within the community justice field remain committed to a social work model, and there are some indications at least that there will be an increasing rapprochement between social work and community justice in the future. This section applies a broad brush to these issues and includes reference to a wide variety of possible careers that are open to a qualified social worker. It therefore includes fields that are not necessarily seen as traditionally social work specifically, such as residential work, or the community justice field.
Neil Thompson, Sue Thompson

Chapter 6.2. Continuous Professional Development

In 2005, the necessity for qualified social workers in the UK to be registered was a significant development in the history of social work professionalism. For many years, people in social work in the UK have bemoaned the absence of any formal recognition of the value and significance of social work and have been concerned at the lack of a mechanism for excluding inappropriate people from the profession. The introduction of registration has therefore been a major landmark in the historical development of UK social work. It can be seen as a major contribution towards taking us forward.
Neil Thompson, Sue Thompson

Chapter 6.3. Applying for Jobs

You cannot have a career without first having a job! Is it just down to luck whether you get a particular job or not, or can you influence the process in your favour? We believe it is the latter. It is a matter of selling yourself, convincing potential employers that you are a worthwhile investment. This chapter provides you with advice and guidance on how to work your way through the difficult process of applying for a job. It is broken down into four parts. The first part is entitled ‘First things first’, and is concerned with the preliminaries to take care of before you do anything else. We then move on to look at the issues involved in making application for a job. Thirdly, we explore issues relating to the interview and what is involved in this often nerve-racking process. Finally, we examine the matters arising in relation to what we have called ‘After the event’ — that is, issues to do with how to respond to disappointment if you do not get the job and how best to manage the situation if you are offered the post.
Neil Thompson, Sue Thompson

6.4. Conclusion

Social work is not a static entity. Like everything else around us, it changes over time. If we are to keep up with such changes and make sure that we are not out of touch with developments, we will need to make sure that we keep learning. And, of course, we should be aiming for more than just staying abreast of developments. We should be thinking in terms of a career — that is, a pathway of development that allows us to grow and improve over time, a platform for progress in terms of continuous professional development.
Neil Thompson, Sue Thompson

Backmatter

Additional information