Assessment in social work: a guide for learning and teaching

The nature of assessment: Who is being assessed?

The historical development and strongly statutory base of much social work in the UK have been associated particularly with work with individuals and families. Typically, assessment and the tools and frameworks that support it assume intervention to be at these levels. Work with groups and communities has always been recognised in training and practice, and Crisp and colleagues note that newly qualified social workers are expected to have some understanding of assessment in relation to these levels too (2003, p 1).

However, group and community work have not achieved equivalence with individual and family work. The result is said in some cases to be assessments that are unduly individualised or narrowly family-focused and that overlook other important social factors. Accordingly, there is support for learning opportunities in community audit and profiling that include consideration of wider factors in assessment (Shardlow et al, 2005, p 23). The NOS for social work explicitly recognise assessment at all these levels of social organisation, stating that assessment may concern individuals, families, carers, groups and communities (TOPSS UK Partnership, 2004, Key role 1, 2.4). This range suggests scope for examining links between the problems of individuals and wider social problems, as in the ‘holistic’ approach to assessment identified by Crisp and colleagues, which includes an analysis of people’s social situation, networks and wider social issues (Crisp et al, 2005, p 160). This degree of holism was, however, the exception among the textbooks reviewed.

Social workers have commonly encompassed parties other than service users in their assessments, for example, by considering the suitability of service providers to meet the requirements of a given service user. This is one of many judgements that are made as a consequence of the assessment process and consideration of the means for meeting service user needs or goals. The primary focus of assessment has nevertheless remained on the service seeker, the individual, partners, family and carer and, to a lesser extent, the group or community. However, the growth of interprofessional and inter-agency practice has made the perspectives and contribution of other professional and agency stakeholders an increasing feature of the assessment process.

Question for educators

  • In relation to which levels or areas of ‘social organisation’ does teaching and learning about assessment take place?

Next: Theories that underpin assessment