Assessment in social workSubmitted to:Dr. Anish K R,School of Social Work,Marian College,Kuttikkanam.Submitted by:Bimal Antony,1stMSW,School of Social Work,Marian College,Kuttikkanam.Date of Submission:26thOctober 2010.
2Assessment in Social WorkIntroductionAssessment is the first step in the problem solving process in social work.Assessment can be said as the process in which data is collected from the concernedperson or group in a systematic way using prescribed methods and skills and is then assembledtogether for the purpose of analysis, even at a later period.Assessment is the exploration part through which the professional gets an understandingabout the clients‟ problems, strengths, inter and intra personal as well as environmental factorsthat the client is living in.Goal setting and interventions largely depends on what is being assessed or has beenassessed. The accuracy level of the assessment determines the practicality and success of goalsand interventions. To bring in any clear and positive change there must have been an accurateand complete assessment done on the relevant subject.Significance of assessmentProfessional or organisational assessment represents the entry of an intentionally rationaland systematic approach to the encounter between a social worker and people seeking help orservices, who may be individuals, couples, families, groups or communities. The assessor‟s rolemay be conceived as gate-keeping, facilitating or empowering but, whichever is the case, theapplication of some form of assessment implies that a service does not operate entirely on-demand or that special expertise in defining problems or finding solutions exists or is needed.There is a further realm of assessment, namely user-led assessment, that has emerged to modifyaspects of the picture of assessment described above.The confident statement in the preface to SCIE‟s first knowledge review that social workassessment is „a core social work skill‟ (Crisp et al, 2003, p iv), can be summarised as follows:• Government and agency policies and practices place great store in effective assessment.• The assessment process is significant for service users and carers in both conditioningtheir experience of the encounter with social care services and in shaping the service theyreceive.• Assessment is widely portrayed in the social work literature as fundamental to socialwork practice with some accounts defining it as a key part of intervention and othersregarding it as the essence of social work intervention.• Competence in assessment is a formal requirement of social workers who arecompleting the degree in social work.
3Assessment in Social WorkDefinitions:Hepworth and Larsen (1986) defined assessment as follows:“Assessment is the process of gathering, analyzing and synthesizing salient data into aformulation that encompasses the following vital dimensions: (1) the nature of clients‟ problems,including special attention to developmental needs and stressors associated with life transitionsthat require major adaptations; (2)coping capacities of clients and significant others (usuallyfamily members), including strengths, skills, personality assets, limitations and deficiencies; (3)relevant systems involved in clients‟ problems and the nature of reciprocal transactions betweenclients and these systems; (4) resources that are available or are needed to remedy or ameliorateproblems; and (5) clients‟ motivation to work on their problems.”Barker (2003) defined assessment as follows:“The process of determining the nature, cause, progression and prognosis of a problemand the personalities and situations involved therein; the social work function of acquiring anunderstanding of a problem, what causes it, and what can be changed to minimize or resolve it.”Crisp and colleagues stated that:“Assessment involves collecting and analysing information about people with the aim ofunderstanding their situation and determining recommendations for any further professionalintervention” (2003, p 3).Two years later, however, their review of textbooks concluded that there is no singledefinition and the review of assessment frameworks found the same (Crisp et al, 2005). Theanalysis suggests four types of definitions found in the textbooks and frameworks reviewed byCrisp and colleagues:• Process-focused• Contingent• Contestation-focused• Critical social constructionist.This simple, four-part typology conceals variation, especially among process-focuseddefinitions which predominate in the works reviewed by Crisp and colleagues (2005).The process-focused group of definitions concentrates on assessment as an essential,practical function that must be carried out with professional sensitivity and competence. Of allthe approaches, process-focused definitions are the nearest to an implicitly technical, even
4Assessment in Social Work„scientific‟, view of the assessment task as a set of methods to be learned and professionallyapplied.The contingent type has some similarities with the process approach but is contingent inthe sense that the nature and direction of assessment is taken to differ according to particularindependent factors. It is implied either that the approach to assessment is determined by a givenindependent factor, or variable, or that a given approach to assessment is particularly suited tothat variable.The contestation-focused type focuses on the conflict or contestation between variables.Hence, the approach defines assessment as an area of contestation between different policies,perspectives and priorities represented, for instance, by:• Emphasis on need vs. eligibility• Social worker idealism vs. realism• Needs vs. risks vs. resources.The critical social constructionist type proceeds from the view that the act ofassessment involves the construction of meanings as distinct from the determination of objectivefacts and causes of problems. The understandings that constitute assessment are sociallyconstructed by those involved, reflect their contexts and may be contradictory. The assessmentmade by the social worker represents his or her construction of a narrative or story about thesituation in question and may, accordingly, reflect the perspective of the social worker more thanof the client. In the process, particular people become defined as service users or carers and„clienthood‟ is constructed (Hall et al, 2003).Factors to be addressed in assessment"What you see depends on what you look for." This saying captures the roles thatknowledge and theory play in shaping the questions that are asked in assessment and thehypotheses that result. In order to eradicate this problem the assessments must be done with aproblem-specific knowledge. The professional must consider the nature of the problem presentedby the client at intake and refer to available research to identify the factors that contribute to,sustain and ameliorate those problems. Factors that are described below must be taken intoconsideration for obtaining a clear knowledge about the client and the problems presented byhim.The three major issues that need to be assessed in all situations:1.) What does the client see as his or her primary problems or concerns?2.) What (if any) current or impending legal mandates must the client and social workerconsider?
5Assessment in Social Work3.) What (if any) potentially serious health or safety concerns might require the socialworker‟s and client‟s attention?Apart from these main questions or issues, the following factors must be taken intoconsideration01. What specifically are the problems?02. How does the client view the problems?03. Who is involved in the problem system?04. How are the participants involved?05. What are the causes of the problems?06. Where does the problematic behaviour occur?07. When does the problematic behaviour occur?08. What are the frequency, intensity, and duration of the problematic behaviour?09. What is the history of the problematic behaviour?10. What does the client want?11. How has the client attempted to handle the problem?12. What skills does the client need to combat the problem?13. What external resources are needed to combat the problem?14. What are the client‟s resources, skills and strengths?15. What are the recommended courses of action?An accurate assessment should provide answers to a number of key questions like thesein order to conduct thorough explorations and to formulate accurate assessments. Guidelines onwhat factors should be addressed in assessment was compiled by Brown and Levitt in 1979.The critical role of assessmentAssessment is a critical process in social work practice, for the nature of goals and theselection of relevant interventions are largely based upon the assessment. The following factorsalso add up to why assessment is so critical in social work:a.) It also enhances the quality of information gathering.b.) It helps even to make the assessment more professional and technical.c.) It helps to understand the determination of eligibility of the professional as well as theclient.d.) It helps to provide access to solutions and the most suitable services.e.) It offers sensitivity and support at a time that is often stressful.
6Assessment in Social WorkAn assessment does include what is wrong, but the boarder meaning of the term leavesroom for evaluating strengths, resources, healthy functioning, and other positive factors that canbe tapped not only in resolving difficulties but also in promoting growth, enhancing functioning,actualising potentials and developing new resources.Assessment as an ongoing processAssessment is sometimes a product and sometimes an ongoing process. It is said to be anongoing process when the interaction with the client is from the initial interview to thetermination of the case. The length of time a client receives service depends upon the seriousnessand depth of the problem the client is in, the processing time required to effectively solve theproblem and the time required to initiate his functional areas in a normal way. Sometimes thisservice period could be weeks, months or even years. When the assessment is an ongoingprocess, the professional is in a position to continuously receive new information. This helps theprofessional to analyze and update the information‟s he has with him and to formulate andimplement new methods into the current case.The prime importance of the professional in the initial stages of client contact must be thegathering of information to access the clients‟ problems, resources and about his environment.Once these are clearly understood and listed out, the process of problem solving begins.Solutions are formulated, strategies are planned. These are then conveyed to the client and afterdiscussion one or more strategies are selected and implemented. But even in the problem-solvingphase, new information related to the client‟s difficulties and resources is likely to emerge,necessitating a revision of the assessment. When the rapport between the professional and theclient becomes stronger as the process is going, the client may reveal additional information orproblems so far he was hiding, which need to be assessed and the resolved. It is quite natural andcommon in the initial meetings for a client to withhold vital information‟s from the professionaldue to the fear of condemnation. For example, a parent who is abusing a child may initially denythat the abuse is occurring. As time passes and if the parent comes to trust the professional thenthe parent may disclose that he or she at times punishes the child. With this new information, theprofessional need to re assess the initial assessment and formulate solutions according to that.Hepworth and Larsen noted that assessment continues to occur even during thetermination phase.Strengths in assessmentClients typically seek social work services for help with problems or difficulties. As aresult, the assessment typically focuses on the problems - sometimes with an overemphasis onclient pathology and dysfunction at the expense of strengths, capacities, and achievements whoserecognition might help provide a fuller understanding of the client. The following list emphasizesstrengths that may be taken for granted during assessment:
7Assessment in Social Work01.) Facing problems and seeking help, rather than denying or otherwise avoidingconfronting them.02.) Taking a risk by sharing problems with the social worker - a stranger.03.) Persevering under difficult circumstances.04.) Being resourceful and creative in making the most out of limited resources.05.) Seeking to further knowledge, education and skills.06.) Expressing caring feelings to family members and friends.07.) Asserting ones rights rather than submitting to injustice.08.) Being responsible in work or financial obligations.09.) Seeking to understand the needs and feelings of others.10.) Having the capacity for introspection or for examining situations by consideringdifferent perspectives.11.) Demonstrating the capacity for self-control.12.) Being able to function effectively in stressful situations.13.) Demonstrating the ability to consider alternative courses of actions and the needs ofothers when solving problems.ConclusionAs assessment is part of the primary or itself is the primary step in the interaction with aclient, group, for a project or for drafting a plan, it‟s role is vital and must be done in the mostprofessional and technically prefect way. Assessment is a process to understand, design andemploy methods and skills that are necessary, in implementing the solutions to the problems orfor projects. Various methods are used in assessment. Learning only that is restricted to technicalcompetence limits the skills of the social worker in adapting and implementing modern methods.Too much technical dependence also limits the use of one‟s own practical ideas and methods inassessment. For proper assessment one must use both technical and practical knowledge.
8Assessment in Social WorkReferences:Dean H. Hepworth, Ronald H. Rooney, Glenda Dewberry Rooney, Kim Strom-Gottfried, Jo AnnLarsen (2009). Direct Social Work Practice: Theory and Skills, Eighth Edition. California:Brooks/Cole.Charles Zastrow (2006). The Practice of Social Work: A Comprehensive Worktext. California:Wadsworth Pub Co.Dr. Colin Whittington (2007). Assessment in social work: A guide for learning and teaching.Great Britain: Social Care Institute for Excellence