on any experience from previous service user involvement (including yourself as
the service user) and your learning from the Preparation for Practice Learning
module, critically analyse the development of the social work role historically
to the present day. Discuss communication theories that facilitate good
communication skills, and the pros and cons of developing empowering,
collaborative working relationships in practice.
During this essay I
will explore how the role of a social worker has developed from its origins to
what exists today after first describing my own experience with the social
services. The essay will then investigate how communication is used within
social work and how the profession maintains consistency throughout social services.
Through discussing the skills needed in social work practice and providing an
understanding of professionalism, the importance of positive working
relationships will be shown and how this can enable helpful outcomes. As well
as guiding the reader through the complexity of social work, I will also cover
my own development through study and how that translates into practice.
At the age of eight my
parents went through what proved to be a vicious divorce. An accusation came
from my father and his new partner in relation to my mother being abusive
towards me. This resulted in the social services involvement. Unbeknown to us,
my siblings and I were individually assessed by a social worker. After the
social worker introduced himself to me, I was taken to a room full of toys. The
social worker asked me what I would like to play with in the room and whether
he could join in. As we played different games he asked me if I play games with
my mother and father, and which games do they enjoy playing with me. Towards
the end of the assessment he asked me if I would like to draw a picture of home
with my mother and siblings. Once I had completed the drawing, I was asked if I
would be able to draw another picture of home with my father and his partner.
As a child going into a new environment and being in the company of a stranger,
I was made to feel welcomed and enjoyed playing with my new friend the social
worker. But what exactly was a social worker and how did the profession come
The origins of social
work can be seen throughout religion and their philosophies. Islam
redistributed wealth, Judaism developed social welfare practices and
Christianity set up formal system of charities. In the 11th century Christians
adopted a multicultural approach through setting up a hospital that employed
Jewish and Muslim physicians. As the evolution of feudalism spread through
Europe, there became a system of government to protect those in poverty of
distress. People on feudal estates gave up individual freedoms to gain social insurance
against life challenges and people in the cities were helped by guilds likened
to the labour unions of today (Payne, 2005).
The foundation set by
religion has undergone numerous developments throughout history. In the middle
ages, those who begged where seen as underserving of help. After the bubonic
plague, strangers who had previously been helped, could face imprisonment if
they asked for help. The plague left a depleted work force and leverage for
increasing their wage. The statute of Labourers was introduced to stop this, by
putting caps on pay, banning labourers from travelling and making it unlawful
to beg for those physically able to work (Poos, 1983). From this, all laws
dealing with the issues surrounding poverty where amalgamated into the
Elizabethan Poor Law 1601. Overseers of the poor where tasked with categorising
those considered dependants. The work carried out by overseers is seen as a
precursor of social work (Dulmus & Sowers, 2012).
The late 1800’s saw the
development of the social work role propelled in America. The Charity
Organisation Society sort to solve individual dependency through volunteers
deemed morally aspirational, by visiting the poor and providing them with
assistance in finding work or short term loans. Due to demand, paid staff where
used to deal with the applications. The majority of these positions were filled
by middle class women, as the caring aspect made it acceptable to their
apparent skill set and they were starting to become known as social workers
From 1890 to 1910 the
volume of social workers in America grew from 1,000 to 30,000 as progressive
social reform took place. This was joined by the development of the American
Association of Social Exchange and the introduction of professional training
schools (Payne, 2005).
Welfare states in
Europe began to develop from 1945 partially due to the war, as populations
hoped for an improvement of living. The Beveridge report ran parallel with
these hopes by identifying five areas that the state needed to tackle in order
to banish poverty and want. Labour leader Attlee was an advocate of the
Beveridge report, and when he became Prime Minister in 1945 he introduced the
welfare state that Beveridge had described (Payne, 2005).
By 1974 in Britain, a
new social work qualification was introduced that focused on fitness to
practice with a module form of presentation. The qualification was seen as
second class with it being geared to a particular role rather than a full
qualification. However in 1988 a single diploma in social work was created.
Criticisms arose with a demand for students to demonstrate competencies rather
than academic knowledge. In 2003 a social work degree was introduced along with
the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC), a regulator for registration
to improve the quality of qualifying social workers. The Social Work Task Force
set out a pattern of career development in 2009 using a professional
capabilities framework (PCF), and put forward the idea of an assessed and
supported first year in employment (ASYE). HCPC came up with their own version
of PCF with their standards of proficiency for social workers (Bamford, 2015).
Among the different skills mention in the PCF are communication skills
social work is vital for successful and professional practice. The social
worker who did my assessment as a child used his awareness of communication
theory initially, through his use of paralanguage with a warm and friendly
tone. Non-verbal communication is potentially more important and effective than
verbal and can prove complex at times (Lishman, 2014). Through proxemics it is
known that “children prefer and use more closeness than adults” (Lishman, 2014,
p35). With my experience being in regards to reported abuse, the social worker
had to make considerations as “touch may symbolise and reawaken the abuse of
power and violation of boundaries” (Lishman, 2014, p37). This was done by conducting
the assessment in a playful environment and by asking if he could join in the
games, it elicited a freedom of choice with proximity.
Taking a child centred
approach is vital for communication in my scenario as it shows that the adult
is comfortable, by playing on the floor and embracing the spontaneity and
creativity of children. Constructing questions with care is paramount as to not
cue a child into answering what they think you want them to say. This could
prejudice criminal proceedings (Koprowska, 2014). This was handled well in my
scenario as the social worker asked questions in relation to the play I was
engaged in. Furthermore symbolic communication was used by asking me to draw a
picture of my family with my mother and then my father (Lishman, 2014). But social
work is more than just refining communication skills.
The role of the social
worker presently has been able to develop using knowledge from research and
evaluating past practice. Using and developing social systems in conjunction
with human behaviour theories enables the social worker profession to improve
the support it provides (BASW, 2014). Neil Thompson (2000) points out that
although social work is a caring professional, social control is a factor, as
considerations need to be made for the wider community as well as the
In 2009 the
Professional Capabilities Framework was introduced with the aim of setting out
the expectations for social workers throughout their career, starting at the
point of study. The PCF “is the overarching framework of standards and
professional development in social work” (Field et al., 2016, p9) and outlines
nine domains of capability. This enables social workers to ensure that they are
meeting the criteria for their particular professional level, whether that is
on the professional domain or the domain for values and diversity. In order to
progress through the different career levels, social workers need to
demonstrate an integration of all aspects across the nine domains at the level
they are looking to progress to (Field et al., 2016).
Using the nine domains,
a social workers skills will improve gradually through repeated experience
(Welford, 1958:18, cited in Trevithick, 2005, p63). When working with a service
user the level of skill for intervention can have a lasting effect. If the
service user is at risk it would be advantageous using directive intervention
through advice. Whereas a non-directive intervention could be used when there
is no apparent risk and relationship building is required. This is often seen
as a person centred approach (Trevithick, 2005). With a person centred
approach, a skilled social worker, through knowledge gained would use Bronfenbrenner’s
ecological system to view a service user’s case holistically. In the case of a child
assessment this would mean interviewing parents, siblings and teachers
The stigma that exists
towards social services can create a reluctance within service users during
contact. Although a social worker does need to gather information during an
assessment, focusing completely on this could actually work against conducting
a thorough assessment. The relationship with a service user is vital, and using
an empathetic and open approach is likely to yield better results throughout
interactions (Mantell, 2013). When a relationship is positive the social worker
can gain a better understanding of the service user in regards to the social
problem that has arose. Time keeping skills prior to an interview will also
effect the interaction. “Lateness
suggests to the person waiting that the party who is running late has something
more important to do” (Kadushin, 2012) and is unprofessional.
Within social work it
is important to maintain professionalism which is seen as “belonging to or
connected with a profession, having or showing the skill of a professional”
(Tulloch, 1995, p1215). As a professional social worker, there are numerous
policies and laws which require interpretation. These interpretations can be
the determining factor as to whether a service user is entitled to certain
benefits or not. The interpretation of law can be helped by a social worker’s
professional knowledge base and, skills in gathering and presenting evidence.
The accountability of when mistakes are made falls with the social worker,
which emphasises the importance of professionalism within social work practice
When working with
service users or colleagues, attentive behaviour is essential as it conveys
concern and respect. This can be done through self-monitoring, adjusting small
details such as leaning towards a service user to show your interest and
involvement (Lishman, 2009). Listening is another important facet of working as
a professional social worker, with involvement in meetings alongside colleagues
and multi-agency or engaging with a service user. Through active listening,
attentiveness will be enhanced and important details of what is being said will
be recorded (Trevithick, 2005).
The effect a social
worker can have on an individual is profound, more often than not this is in a
positive manner. Professional negligence however, can have serious
ramifications for service users, causing suffering and at times even lives. A
lack of professionalism by one social worker can have a lasting effect on the reputation
of the profession as a whole. A negative reputation could then go on to effect
funding for social services, which in turn would have a lasting effect on those
in need of services (Cournoyer, 2017).
That is why initial
contact with a service user is important as it can set the tone for future
contact, so in approaching an interview it is vital to be prepared. The case
file should be reviewed to gain a clear idea about the purpose of the visit.
This may entail contacting other agencies in order to clarify or build on the
information on file (Parker & Bradley, 2010). Understanding the case study
for my practice interview enabled me to approach the scenario by creating a
fluid interview plan.
Having identified areas
of purpose prior to the interview, the feedback I received highlighted how I
failed to recognise the service user communicating an important issue. Using
how Lishman (2009) describes inadequate listening, this could be seen as
anxiety about my performance. Whilst building upon interview skills, it is
important to refer back to the outlined plan in times of anxiety in order to
keep focus. Improvements in active listening would empower the service user by
showing them they have your full attention and that what they are saying is
being valued (Mantell, 2013).
The use of paraphrasing
can prove a valuable tool when engaging with service users as it helps to see
their own situation more clearly by mirroring their own communication. During
my interview I was able to paraphrase information given by the service user,
which enabled her to reflect on the relationship with her mother. Paraphrasing
also holds importance for the interviewer as a means of checking their
understanding of what is being said (A. Kadushin & G Kadushin, 1997).
When a social worker is
interviewing a service user, care needs to be taken when interpreting the
information. As mentioned, paraphrasing along with reflection can help avoid
this. Misinterpretation could result in unprofessional practice, by offering an
unsuitable service based on a partial construction of the situation. The use of
the exchange model may also prove useful, whereby the service user is seen as
the expert in their own needs (Coulshed & Orme, 2012). Treating a service
user as a partner whom brings their own knowledge and experience can aid in
empowering the service user and creating a collaborative approach to dealing
with the issues they are facing (Warren, 2007).
As the social work
profession deals with individual personalities and issues, it may take some
time before you can begin to work collaboratively with a service user.
Challenging situations do occur as the issues are personal and often sensitive
to the individual. If a service user is displaying aggressive behaviour,
expressing concern and empathy towards their situation can help alleviate and
defuse the situation. In this situation it is paramount that a social worker
remains professional, as losing moral authority would hinder the future relationship
with the service user (Taylor, 2011).
Throughout the duration
of the module I have been able to expand a basic understanding of social work
practice into a richer understanding of the intricate elements required to
promote good practice. This could be using communication skills to creative a
positive relationship with a service user, or an awareness of professional
accountability when approaching challenging situations. Using the PCF I have
been able to identify the different domains that needed developing before
The feedback I received
following the interview highlights how different it is to learn about a
profession through academia compared to putting it into practice. My preparation
for the interview were substantial, with feedback mentioning how I was very
relatable, curious with questioning and kept to task. There were limitations in
my preparations as I was too stringent in following the case study, and
expected the service user to be less boisterous. I was informed that I should
have set boundaries during the interview and slowed the pace of the interview
down in order to gain some control. Also through lack of probing, I failed to
pick up on important statements made by the service user. From this I can use
my reflection to strengthen the skills I have learnt and carry them over onto
As a professional
practice, social work has come an incredibly long way. From its religious
beginnings to the overseers that formed with the Elizabethan Poor Law 1601. One
of the driving forces behind the social reforms that helped form social work
have been major disasters such as the bubonic plague or World War two. Social
work in its current form through research and experience has managed to become
a profession that demands high standards through degree education, the HCPC and
the PCF. This creates a standardised way of becoming a social worker and
ensures continued development whether at student level or more senior.
Word Count: 2703
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