Carers have to be thinkers, too

Social Work and Human Development. First edition - Social Work with Older People. First edition - Social Work and Mental Health. First edition - What is Social Work? Context and Perspectives. First edition - Using the Law in Social Work. First edition - Effective Practice Learning in Social Work. First edition - Social Work Practice

February 25, 2005

The reform of social work education in the UK, as part of the Government's modernising agenda for social care, included the introduction of an honours degree to replace the two-year diploma as the entry qualification to the profession. The Government's strategy for social work is to have a better-trained workforce to raise the overall standards of practice, and to develop an effective evidence base for practice.

The move to a degree-level professional qualification was welcomed by those of us involved in social work education and training. Texts that can assist students at the beginning of their training are an important addition to the literature.

The volumes that make up this collection are introductory texts and are aimed primarily at students studying for the degree. They are concerned mainly with the key knowledge areas set by the Department of Health and the academic requirements as set out in the Quality Assurance Agency benchmark statement for social work. These texts, written by academics at the forefront of their fields, provide an introduction to a number of key practice areas. Each text is intended to introduce the reader to a particular area of practice and is designed as an interactive resource to maximise students' learning.

All the books in this collection follow a similar format, structured around core themes of the knowledge requirements for social work. Introductory chapters set out frameworks and key issues to be addressed, and the authors ground their specific topics in the legal and policy context. They provide overviews of the literature, case-study material that reflects many of the dilemmas experienced in practice, and practical exercises to highlight discussion and encourage critical reflection.

There are also comprehensive lists of further reading and links to government guidance, policy and legislative documents, which will facilitate a deeper understanding of the topics covered. Ultimately, the aim of the authors is to encourage students to develop critical thinking about the values, ethics, roles, knowledge and communication skills required for professional practice with diverse groups of service users in a range of health and social care settings. These are strong features of the texts that serve to engage their readers. As social work draws its knowledge base from a wide variety of disciplines, the knowledge areas are vast and permeated with competing claims.

All the authors thus provide students with an overview of contemporary debates relevant to their topics and offer a balanced account of the literature to outline competing knowledge claims. The common goal is to help students recognise the range of theories and their relevance to the intervention methods used by social workers in specific areas of practice. These texts are very much about students developing their capacity for critical thinking, for considering how needs and problems are defined and interpreted in social care and, most importantly, for understanding how professional judgements can be made.

A salient example comes in Social Work and Human Development , in which Karin Crawford and Janet Walker introduce broad schools of thought in psychology from which some key theoretical perspectives on life course development have arisen. The authors' intention is to develop students' insights into the multiplicity of factors that influence human development in order to consider the implications of working across the spectrum of life course development.

As introducing students to specific areas of practice is a key goal of the series, Social Work with Older People takes as its focal point the policy and service provision for this group of service users so as to highlight examples of good practice. It is an effective aid to learning for understanding current developments in policy and practice in working with older people.

Social Work and Mental Health is a comprehensive introduction intended to encourage students to develop greater insight into the needs of those using mental-health services. Throughout, Malcolm Golightley provides clear information on mental-health practice with both adults and children. The use of case studies and exercises provides a wide-ranging guide to students' learning about the key issues in multidisciplinary and multi-agency teamwork in mental-health services.

Similarly, in What is Social Work? Context and Perspectives , Nigel Horner takes stock of the landscape of social work to address the central question of exactly what social workers do. In tracing its history, Horner brings into focus the different approaches to the field for exploring the contexts that affect its development. A feature of Horner's book is a useful appendix of further resources, which includes a timeline tracing the development of the profession. This is a valuable tool for students wishing to learn more about the organisation and delivery of social work.

In Using the Law in Social Work , Robert Johns informs and encourages critical thinking about the legal framework in which social workers practise. Numerous practice examples and case studies illustrate the practical applications of the law to social work. As the new degree emphasises practice learning, the aim of Effective Practice Learning in Social Work is to provide a useful tool to help students optimise opportunities for learning in practice.

In contrast, Social Work Practice: Assessment, Planning, Intervention and Review introduces students to theories and methods of intervention so as to encourage individual reflective learning about the social work process. Jonathan Parker and Greta Bradley focus on key roles in the National Occupational Standards for social work and help students improve their knowledge of the assessment process. Integrating theory and practice is an area that students just beginning to develop their knowledge of social work commonly find difficult. Thus, one of the challenges in writing introductory texts is to achieve a balance: to provide comprehensive reviews of the debates without oversimplifying the processes involved. The authors achieve their aims, which are to introduce students to areas of social work in a clear and logical way that allows them to acquire the skills and knowledge that are essential for working with service users' needs.

Overarching themes in all the texts are the necessity for critical thought, the importance of emotional literacy, the value of reflection and the ability to link theory to practice. Inevitably, questions arise about what depth the texts are able to go into in what are huge topics.

Notwithstanding, these texts can act as a springboard for students to begin to make sense of practice. They are useful reference points and will help lay the foundation for further study to develop skills and knowledge for practice with diverse groups of service users in a range of settings where social work is delivered. They are practical books written in clear and accessible language, making them very readable and an invaluable resource for students. Students on prequalifying courses in health and social care would also benefit from them.

Claudia Bernard is senior lecturer in social work, Goldsmiths College, University of London.

Social Work and Human Development. First edition

Author - Karin Crawford and Janet Walker
Publisher - Learning Matters
Pages - 140
Price - £14.00
ISBN - 1 903300 83 5

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