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Tuning-In to Assessment

Assessment is a central element in social work practice. It is a common misconception held by the public that social work practice is merely a series of well-meaning but otherwise uncoordinated activities (Haines, 1981). This, however, is not the case. Social work practice is a highly organized profession. A certain process is followed when dealing with a service user. The stages of this process include assessment, planning, intervention and review.

‘Assessment involves gathering and interpreting information in order to understand a person and their circumstances; the desirability and feasibility of change and the services and resources which are making necessary to affect it. It involves making judgements based on information (Middleton, 1997, p.5).

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Assessment is particularly important as it creates the foundations of a social worker’s work with the service user. The purpose of a social worker’s assessment is to help them to understand the situation that he/she is dealing with and to identify the relevant factors in a situation (Pincus, 1973). It is also important to realize that assessment does not only take place at the beginning of the case. Assessment is an ongoing, dynamic process that continues throughout the process of working with a service user.

As situations change and people change it is tremendously important to re-assess the client in order to deal with their issues appropriately. Assessment is the beginning of a process of change for the service user. Meetings between service users are therefore not merely an unorganized, random act. It is organized and assessment is a major part of the process of change, developed between the social worker and the client.

Assessment is a central part of effective social work practice. This is clear by the number of types of assessment a social worker is involved with.

One type of assessment is a single event assessment (Ni Raghnallaigh, 2007). This is where a social worker does one assessment of an individual at a specific time in their lives. In this one meeting with the service user, the social worker intends on identifying needs and goals for the client as well as ways of achieving these (Ni Raghnallaigh, 2007). They may only re-assess the service user if need to produce a report for a court appearance or case conference. As we all know, people change, and situations change. For that reason, a single assessment will only give a picture of a person at that particular time.

The original assessment may not present an accurate picture of the situation a year or as little as a month on. In addiction cases, a service user may relapse, or in child protection, a new partner may come on the scene and lead to a child being at risk. So, it is clear that single event forms of assessment are not always efficient ways of assessing clients.

Another type of assessment is one that is an ongoing activity (Haines, 1981). This form of assessment is now recognized as a more effective style. Social workers attempt to continuously re-assess their service users in order to deal with their problems more successfully. As I mentioned above, situations often change for service users. Therefore, it is necessary to frequently assess and re-assess. This will guarantee that the correct plan is in place for service users. Constant assessments will result in nothing being overlooked or unnoticed. Plans can be changed or altered for clients as the result of the findings of a new assessment. Social work is being seen more and more as a process in which assessment and intervention are interconnected (Ni Raghnallaigh, 2007).

The types of assessments in which social workers are involved vary. Different forms of assessment are used in different situations. Sometimes it is down to the social worker to choose which form of assessment they will use. Other times they are required to do a specific assessment, for example, if a client is due in court.

One of the most common assessments social workers will deal with is risk assessment. Risk assessment is carried out when the likelihood of something negative happening or not happening to a child is uncertain (Buckley, Horwath & Whelan, 2006). This kind of assessment is carried out for groups of people who are most vulnerable, for example, children, people with disabilities, elderly people. This type of assessment examines a service user’s individual and family conditions to identify if there are any risk factors (Ni Raghnallaigh, 2007).

The information found in a risk assessment is used to see whether a service user is safe, and what resources may be needed to keep the service user safe (Ni Raghnallaigh, 2007). Risk assessment reports involve gathering a large body of information in order to ensure the correct action is taken. This information includes information on past events, whether the person has come to any harm in the past, information about any special needs the service user may have, details about family members and their ability to care for the service user, details of any significant changes in the service users life, the availability of supports and resources, professional opinions from relevant experts involved, and reports made by doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists (Ni Raghnallaigh, 2007). This information is crucial in forming a full picture of the service user’s circumstances.

Another form of assessment is multi-disciplinary assessment. It is becoming more and more common that social work assessments must be carried out in partnership with other agencies and professionals (Coulshed & Orme, 2006). A good example of a multi-disciplinary assessment is for hospital discharge. In this situation, a multi-disciplinary team works together to arrange the most suitable discharge plan for the patient. This team would include consultants, nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, and a social worker.

The social worker would not be able to fulfill a complete assessment of the patient without the help of these other professionals. Child protection investigations would also very commonly involve collaboration between the social worker and educational professionals in the child’s school (Coulshed & Orme, 2006).

How a social worker deals with these different types of assessment depends on the skills they use and on the model of assessment they use. I will discuss these as the essay continues.

There are certain skills a social worker will need to use when doing an assessment. It is essential that a social worker learns these skills in order to conduct a sufficient assessment.

I will go on to discuss in this section some of the skills which I believe to be necessary tools for conducting an assessment. I will also discuss a theory explored by Coulshed and Orme of the CORE skills required to undertake an assessment.

Two skills that are central to carry out an assessment are administrative skills and human relations skills (Ni Raghnallaigh, 2007).

Very often, the importance of administrative skills is forgotten when studying assessment in social work. However, it is important to realise that these skills are central to many social wok duties, one of those being assessed. Very often reports from outside agencies are needed when completing an assessment. So, it is very important that all of these reports are filed accurately and used correctly. There is a good deal of paperwork to be done for an assessment. In order to make a full assessment information needs to be gathered from various sources. It is vital that all past reports on the service user are filled out correctly and filed in a place that is acceptable.

Organizational skills are very important here also. Reports from various outside agencies and professionals must be gathered. Reports of visits with the service user must be recorded comprehensively. All of this information must then be compiled to form the overall assessment. So, it is clear that good practical administrative and organizational skills are indispensable in completing accurate assessments.

Good human relations and interpersonal skills are fundamental when undertaking an assessment. A social worker must be capable to communicate well with a diverse array of people when carrying out an assessment. Cooperation is needed from a lot of outside agencies, professionals, the service user and the service user’s family. In order to achieve this cooperation, good human relations skills are needed. A social worker must build up good relationships with other professionals, such as doctors, psychiatrists, principals in schools etc, so that they will willingly cooperate when any information or help is needed from them.

Not only will the social worker have to work well with other professionals but they must have a good relationship with the service user and the service user’s family. It is not always easy to do this, especially if the service user does not want interference from a social worker. However, the social worker must use good human relations skills to build trust between themselves and the service user. For that reason, human relation skills are extremely important skills a social worker will need to use when carrying out an assessment.

Coulshed and Orme describe the theory of CORE skills. CORE stand for Communication, Observation, Reflection and Evaluation (Cuolshed & Orme, 2006). According to this theory, these skills are essential when carrying out an assessment. Communication is needed in all information gathering. In assessment, social workers receive written and verbal information from outside agencies and other professionals, which is vital to understanding the situation being assessed. This is why communication is a central skill for assessment.

Observation has a huge impact on a social worker’s understanding of situations (Coulshed). Social workers get a chance to observe service users during meetings with them. Observing patterns of behaviour as well as body language can be instrumental in getting a sense of what is happening for the service user at that point in time (Coulshed). For example, if a child is being very quite, but his body language shows that he is fearful of the parent this could be an indication to the social worker that child abuse issues may need to be examined. This sort of situation shows how observation could bring up questions that may not have come up otherwise.

Reflection is a skill that is also useful for an assessment. Reflection involves reviewing the different perspectives assessed during the gathering of information process and from the observation process (Coulshed). Another advantage of reflection is that it gives an opportunity for the social worker to review the different perspectives in the light of theory and research evidence (Coulshed).

The concept of evaluation within the CORE skills is an exploration of the effectiveness of the process of assessment (Coulshed). Evaluation also gives the worker an opportunity to explore the input made by both the service user and the worker (Coulshed). It is also important to ensure that the social worker has gathered as much information as possible and nothing has gone unexplored. The evaluation may additionally highlight the potential of the assessment to stereotype individuals and their issues, unfair allocation of resources and the operation of power in the relationship between the social worker and the client (Coulshed).

The CORE skills are very helpful for social workers when carrying out assessments. The skills of communication and observation are essential skills in carrying out any social work duty and are particularly helpful for carrying out assessments. Reflection and evaluation ensures that nothing goes under the radar and all avenues are explored. They also put the information gathered through communication and observation into perspective.

Not only are skills important when doing an assessment but the model that the social worker follows is also of significance.

The ability to conduct and record an assessment lies in the ability to collect enough of the right kind of information, in the right environment (Coulshed). Sometimes we as students attempt to find out certain issues by asking as many questions as possible, however, this just leads to an information overload and confusion (Coulshed). It is important to remember that assessments cannot be completed in one specific event. Rather, they are ongoing and dynamic, and as result are never truly complete. Much research has been conducted to attempt to find the best way to conduct an assessment in order to get the best outcome. From this research, a number of models have emerged (Coulshed). In this section, I will discuss four of these models. These include the Questioning Model, Procedural Model, Exchange Model and Narrative Model.

The questioning model is the most basic approach to assessment (Coulshed). This model is based on communication theories. These theories suggest that the dialogue between social workers and service users is based on questions (Coulshed). They do suggest that open questions be used rather than closed questions (Coulshed). This gives the client a chance to express their feelings and also ensures that as much information is gathered as possible, and that this information is not biased by the particular questions that the social worker asks. This type of approach is said to give the social worker a chance to gather as much information as possible (Coulshed). Not only are questions important to assist communication, it is also important to note that the type of question and the way it is used is of significance (Coulshed).

The classic questioning model is what Milner and Byrne (2002) call the reductionist approach to assessment. This model assumes that the problem and solution to the problem lie within the individual (Coulshed). According to this model, by asking suitable questions the worker can derive a solution to the client’s problem (Coulshed). This type of model emphasises the expertise of the worker and suggests that by interrogating the client a decision ca be derived. This kind of model can be seen to be disempowering to the client (Coulshed). However, the systematic methods of gaining information can be used in order to get as many perspectives as possible. These different perspectives can be compared to develop as exact a picture as possible (Coulshed). In this way, the questioning model can be very effective.

Procedural models have come about as a result, in part, of legislation, and perhaps of the increasingly bureaucratic nature of social work. A procedural model is one where social workers carry out assessments according to a set of rules (Coulshed). These rules are in place in order to guarantee uniformity and comprehensive data collections (Coulshed). These systems usually involve a lot of paperwork. In some areas of social work, practice data is inputted into computer systems in order to make accessing information fast and easy and to ensure that all of the correct information is gathered. In many cases, these systems are in place to benefit the agency more so than the service user.

This form of gathering information can lead to alienating the service user being assessed and puts a lot of emphasis on the administrative side of the social worker’s duties. There are, in spite of this, some advantages of the procedural model. The list of rules and guidelines can be helpful for beginner social workers (Coulshed). They can turn to the guidelines to ensure that they have gathered all of the information needed for an assessment. It also means that information on service users can be found and accessed quickly and easily. As I mentioned above, administrative duties are important in social work. However, they should not dominate a social workers time. Social workers may become obsessed with gathering data instead of focusing on the person who needs help. The service user may feel angry or distressed by having to reveal so much information and this could alienate the person and prevent him/her from seeking help.

The exchange model was developed by Smale et al. (1993). This model strives to empower the service user. This model suggests that the social worker has expertise in the process of problem-solving, but the people in need of help and those closest to them will always know more about their problems than the social worker will (Coulshed). The exchange model strives to include the service user and their family in making the assessment. The worker is involved to manage the assessment process, but the client and his/her social network are very much involved in the process (Coulshed). The exchange model insists on full participation in the assessment process.

Family networks are very important in this model. The social worker will try to involve them to get a full picture of the support system for the person in need. The service users’ close social network will help to build a better picture of the needs of the client. There are some setbacks in the exchange model. Sometimes people do not fully understand their own situation and they need people to explain everything to them clearly. It is important that the necessary adjustments are made so that people can understand and be understood (Coulshed). A setback of this model is that it can be very difficult for the social worker in certain situations (Coulshed). It can be very time-consuming and sometimes the client may not be completely willing to participate. Regardless of this, empowerment is very important to give confidence to clients and make them more enthusiastic about the process of change.

In my assessment within the residential children’s home, I intend to put together a chronology of Mr. B’s life to date as it will be very important for me and every other member of staff to view this to make sure they know B’s story. I am aware completing a chronology can be difficult and very time-consuming but I feel it is a vital piece of information to put into B’s file. I will obtain the information for the chronology by first looking at B’s file and if there are any gaps in the chronology or I need clarification on anything I will have to contact different agencies and professionals to obtain the required information.

Essentially, chronologies list in date order the significant events in a child’s life and the involvement of agencies in supporting the family as a means of creating an ordered overview of those events for analysis. Typically the events include changes in the make up of the family (births, deaths, other changes), changes of address, school health care arrangements, periods of ill health or medical treatment, injuries or harm, reported incidents of domestic violence, substance misuse, criminal and anti-social behaviour, school attendance and educational attainment, employment of parents/carers, legal changes or interventions. The chronology I am devising will assist social workers, managers and others in understanding the immediate or cumulative impact of these events on the child. While each event in itself might seem particularly significant analysis of the accumulation of seemingly unrelated and/or repeated events might enable professionals to identify key issues and patterns that need to be addressed including risk of significant harm. The analysis requires professionals to use professional knowledge, understanding and judgement in evaluating the significance of specific events and the accumulation of events.

Aswell as the chronology I am going to carry out a risk assessment of Mr B and then I will go through it with him to get his views on it. Undertaking a risk assessment should minimise the chances of the identified risk occurring. In the risk assessment I am going to include background factors, situational hazards, strengths and risk minimisation. This will be a live document and I will make all staff aware that it must be kept up-to-date because Mr B is displaying very risky behaviours are present.

I have outlined the various types of assessment that a social worker is involved in. The range of types of assessment shows how central it is in social work practice. I explained the skills that a social worker will need to undertake assessments effectively. Another important component of assessment is which model a social worker follows. This can affect the outcome of the assessment. Finally I have discussed how I am going to carry out my assessment of B.


Coulshed & Orme. 2006 . Social work practice. Palgrave MacMillan

John Haines. 1981 . Skills and methods in social work. Trowbridge & Esher

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