Assessment in social work: a guide for learning and teaching

The nature of assessment

In this section:

The significance of assessment in social work practice and education

The idea of professional or organisational assessment is an inherent feature of contemporary practice in care services. Professional or organisational assessment represents the entry of an intentionally rational and systematic approach to the encounter between a social worker and people seeking help or services, who may be individuals, couples, families, groups or communities. The assessor’s role may be conceived as gatekeeping, facilitating or empowering but, whichever is the case, the application 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 modify aspects of the picture of assessment described above and which will be discussed later.

The confident statement in the preface to SCIE’s first knowledge review that social work assessment is ‘a core social work skill’ (Crisp et al, 2003, p iv), is supported in a number of quarters, as this guide will show. To summarise:

In short, of all the skills that social workers may aspire to, assessment seems the one most likely to achieve consensus among practitioners, managers, employers and service users as an essential skill. Agreement as to what constitutes assessment is, however, more elusive, as will be shown later.

Questions for educators

  • What do social work students learn about the significance placed on assessment by government and agencies, service users and carers, the professional literature and the requirements of the social work degree?

Next: Reasons for teaching and learning about assessment