Social Work Process - Part 1

The Idea in a Nutshell

Engage with the person, asses the needs and resources, implement a plan to meet the needs, evaluate whether you have been successful, move on.

The idea in summary

Regardless of where and with whom social work is practiced the overall structure of the work will be the same. Social workers must be able to engage with service users and assess their needs, risks, resources and strengths. This assessment should lead to a plan that sets out how their needs can best be met. These plans are then implemented by the service user, the social worker and others. As the work progresses the work is reviewed to see if the goals are being achieved. Once the goals have been achieved the case is closed and the person continues with life without social work involvement.

The idea in more depth

The basic process of social work practice can be explained very simply. However translating this simple explanation into practice is anything but easy.

Social work begins with Assessment; moves on to Planning; which leads to an Intervention; that is Reviewed and Evaluated. This can be represented like this.

Figure 1 - Basic Social Work Process

Carole Sutton has labelled this the ASPIRE model, Assessment, Planning, Intervention, Review and Evaluation.

Assessment involves finding out as much as possible about a person’s circumstances, needs, strengths, resources and goals. The aim of the assessment is to understand all these things well enough to know who or what needs to change, how things might change and why they need to change. A good assessment will be uniquely suited to the individual and their circumstances and make sense to all concerned, or at least make enough sense for everyone involved to agree what needs to happen next.

The second stage involves deciding what is going to be done with the assessment. Good assessments lead to planned action. A plan should say who will do what; when and how they will do it; and when the results will be checked against what the expected results are. Plans need to be clear enough for all those concerned to know what is expected of them. At the same time it is important that plans are flexible enough to respond to changing circumstances.

Having produced a plan it is then necessary to take action. The plan has to be put into effect. This is the intervention stage. Interventions can vary widely. Sometimes an intervention may be as simple as providing basic resources so someone can live independently. At other times interventions may use a specific set of techniques from a social work model such as task centred practice. Social workers may directly deliver interventions, such as work on parenting skills. In other situations the intervention may involve referring a service user to another specialist service, such as Welfare Rights.

Having carried out the plan it is then important to take time to see if it worked. Did it get the results that were expected? Has it changed things? What is better? What is worse? Does the person now have the well-being to continue without further support? These kinds of questions form the basis for a review and evaluation. Without this step it is impossible to say whether the intervention has helped.

In many ways this review and evaluation leads the social worker back to assessment. This could suggest that social work process is more like a cycle then a straight line. This can be represented thus.

Figure 2 – Social Work Process as a Cycle

This is a more accurate picture of how social work is in practice. As each intervention is planned and tried the results are fed back into the assessment to build a more accurate picture. This picture is used to ensure that at each step the intervention is being effective.

The downside of this cyclical model is that it has no end point. The danger is that there is no way of saying when enough is enough. This can be overcome by seeing social process not necessarily having clear stages, but as involving a number of less clearly defined phases which blend into each other. This can be shown below.


Figure 3 - Social Work Process as Phases

This model shows that when first meeting a service user the social worker’s main task in the process is to engage with the service user at a human level and to begin their assessment (Point A).

As the assessment begins to take shape the social work together with the service user and others involved will use the assessment to begin to plan what to do (Point B).

This will lead to the service user, the social work and others doing things to improve the situation (Point C).

As they do these things they will be reviewing how effective these things are and will be using this review to update the assessment and the plans (Point D).

Forwards the end of the work the social worker and service user will be focusing on closing the work and moving forward without support from the social worker, this will include reviewing all aspects of the work (Point E) before finally closing the work (Point F).

Part Two