Social work practice & assessment tools

Written by ilana waters
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Social work practice & assessment tools
Social workers have a variety of assessment tools they can use. (Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

Social workers assist individuals and families to resolve a variety of personal and interpersonal problems. Such workers can be employed as counsellors, advocates, and case managers, as well as fulfilling many more crucial roles. Social workers now need more education and training than ever before, and many have degrees that go beyond the four-year college experience. As such, there is a wealth of assessment and practice tools at their disposal to use with the general public.

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Family Maps

Family maps are a common social work assessment tool. But these are not the types of maps you use to understand geography; instead, they are systems of symbols describing family trees, histories, and relationships. When taking down a patient's history, for example, a social worker might draw a circle symbolising the patient's mother, and a square symbolising the father. If the pair were married, they are connected by a straight line. This system allows a social worker to have an immediate pictorial representation of potentially complex relationships.


Observation is another assessment tool used by social workers. It comes into play a great deal when these professionals are employed by child-protective agencies and prisons. Often, a social worker will watch family or prisoner interactions through a one-way mirror and make an assessment based on what he or she sees. These assessments can be used in court to help determine if parents should be granted custody or visitation rights, or if certain prisoners are safe to be released back into society.

Treatment Plans

A practice tool used by almost every social worker is the treatment plan. This is a versatile instrument that can be tailored to any patient, client or situation. For instance, a school social worker helps create an educational treatment plan with the child study team for at-risk youth. A medical social worker coordinates the psychosocial aspects of patient care and writes a treatment plan accordingly. Ideally, patients should provide input about their own treatment plans if they are able to do so.

Goal Cards

Finally, a relatively new practice tool used by social workers are goal cards. These cards are useful only for patients or clients with the maturity and cognitive skills to use them. The social worker (or client) puts a picture on the front of an index card symbolising the client's goal. For instance, family harmony might be symbolised by a cut-out picture from a magazine illustrating a hugging father and son. On the other side are written ways to achieve the goal. Social workers can use these as "flash cards" during client sessions, or give them to the client to take home as reminders.

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