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About this book

Focusing on the challenges of achieving good practice, Understanding Social Work reflects recent developments in social work within the context of contemporary society, law and policy. This popular text continues to offer an excellent foundation for readers for anyone wanting a better understanding of the social work role.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Making sense of social work

Abstract
The main focus of this chapter is the attempt to clarify the nature and purposes of social work — that is, to try to establish some degree of clarity about what social work is. As we shall see below, many people have offered definitions of social work, often with confusing results. The approach I shall adopt here, then, is to work towards an understanding of what social work is, rather than begin with a definition.
Neil Thompson

Chapter 2. The legal and policy context

Abstract
Although it is clear that social workers have a considerable degree of professional autonomy in some respects, the steps that can be taken are heavily constrained by the law and the policies that arise from it. The law also lays down a number of duties — steps that social workers are obliged to take in certain circumstances. It is therefore essential that social workers have a good working knowledge of the law.
Neil Thompson

Chapter 3. The knowledge base

Abstract
In Chapter 2 it was emphasized that, although the legal and policy context is an extremely important influence on practice, it does not prescribe in fine detail how we should proceed in any particular situation — there is still considerable professional autonomy, in the sense that the individual social worker has to make decisions about what he or she does. Social work cannot be done effectively in a mechanical, unthinking way (even though, as I shall be arguing in Chapter 6, many people do in fact attempt this, with very harmful results). It is therefore necessary to have a knowledge base to draw upon so that we are not reinventing the wheel every time we act. The knowledge base represents, to a large extent, the consolidated knowledge of practitioners, theorists and researchers who have covered similar ground in the past and have left us the legacy of their experiences and learning.
Neil Thompson

Chapter 4. The skills base

Abstract
It was emphasized in Chapter 3 that the knowledge base, although very important indeed, does not give us readymade answers as to how we should proceed in a given situation. Part of the art of the social worker is choosing the most appropriate response to the situation in hand. The knowledge base will be very useful in giving us lots of insights and clues about the situations we face, but it is still down to us to develop the necessary skills for effective practice. The knowledge base therefore needs to be supplemented by a skills base. And, once again, we shall see that the territory we need to explore is complex, multifaceted and constantly changing. So, the skills base lays before us another set of challenges.
Neil Thompson

Chapter 5. The value base

Abstract
Social work involves working with some of the most is advantaged sections of the community and with people who, for a variety of reasons, are experiencing major problems and distress, often with unmet needs and other difficulties that may at times seem intractable. In view of this, it should be clear that social workers must guard strenuously against the possibility of exploiting or oppressing their clientele through unethical practices. Consequently, the question of moral values in social work has to be recognized as a major one, in terms of both its complexity and its ramifications. Having a value base is an important part of what makes social work a profession — our values guide us in making decisions and are also an important source of motivation for us. This chapter therefore examines the significance of values as a central feature of social work theory, policy and practice.
Neil Thompson

Chapter 6. Achieving good practice

Abstract
Social work is a very responsible professional activity which brings with it many pressures. It is understandable, then, that some practitioners have little ambition beyond surviving those pressures and simply getting through the day. However, ‘understandable’ and ‘acceptable’ are not the same thing. Such an approach falls far short of high-quality practice and is therefore unnecessarily self-limiting.
Neil Thompson

Chapter 7. Facing the challenge

Abstract
Schön, in his work on reflective practice, writes of the ‘messiness’ of practice, the complexity, ambiguity and uncertainty of day-to-day reality for practitioners. He contrasts this with the ‘high ground’ of theory and research, where it is so much easier to gain an overview, to see the connections and patterns and to be able to make sense of the recurring themes and issues. However, when it comes to ‘applying’ the insights from the high ground to the ‘swampy lowlands’ of practice, life becomes much more complex and far less accommodating. We may experience the classic barrier of finding that what seemed relatively straightforward in principle proves far more complex in reality.
Neil Thompson

Conclusion

Abstract
In this book we have covered a considerable amount of ground in a relatively short space: from debates about the nature and purposes of social work through the legal and policy context to the knowledge, skills and values of professional social work and the foundations of good practice — and some of the main problems and pressures that can and often do stand in the way of building on those foundations. It is to be hoped that this broad overview of social work will have succeeded in its aims of providing:
Neil Thompson
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