Assessment in social work: a guide for learning and teaching
The nature of assessment
In this section:
- Reasons for teaching and learning about assessment
- The definitions of assessment
- Risk assessment
- The purposes of assessment
- Who is being assessed?
- Theories that underpin assessment
- The different timeframes of assessment
- Assessment processes
- Evidence-based assessment
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:
- government and agency policies and practices place great store in effective assessment
- the assessment process is significant for service users and carers in both conditioning their experience of the encounter with social care services and in shaping the service they receive
- assessment is widely portrayed in the social work literature as fundamental to social work practice with some accounts defining it as a key part of intervention and others regarding it as the essence of social work intervention
- competence in assessment is a formal requirement of social workers who are completing the degree in social work.
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?