Tools for Understanding Situations

Over the years, in the wake of landmark child protection cases, the role of social workers and the principles and values behind what they do, have been the subject of a number of debates, both from within and outside its profession. 

Arguably, within the developed world, the social service sector has been the focus of widespread criticism from the political Right, some of who view social work as creating dependency on welfare.  Social work has also been subject to attack from the Left and by those within the profession itself who criticized it for, among other things, individualising and pathologising social problems, and for operating within paradigms that did little to address broader issues concerning social justice.

Over time, more inclusive and reflective ways of doing and thinking about social work started gaining credence, one that drew its ethics and values from individual and community strengths and capabilities. This paradigm shift, which began in the 70s, created the space for fostering constructive dialogues on how people could transform their own lives in ways they found to be most meaningful and empowering.

In going back to the basics, critically thinking through situations and understanding issues from the perspectives of those we work with are a first step towards building respectful and helpful partnerships.  As social workers it may require us to take more than just a step back to re-evaluate our value judgments. Identifying and working with hidden strengths and opportunities, no matter how bleak or hopeless a situation may seem at first, often entails a conscious and creative yet rigorous process.

The problem definition/overview

The problem definition/overview is a format that enables community workers to re-frame a situation from multiple perspectives by systematically thinking through the situation. It helps reflect upon:

  • Who all the stakeholders in a particular issue are
  • A series of ‘w-facts’ concerning the issue (who, when, what & why)
  • What each stakeholder identified want to see happening in their situation or lives
  • What each stakeholder wants to contribute to help the situation.

Download Problem Overview template
Download Problem Overview sample case-study

Perspectives for Engaging Clients

This process complements the Problem Definition Overview in the way that it addresses micro-perspectives of both clients and social workers in terms of how problems, their solutions and consequences have been interpreted.  The process sees both clients and professionals working in partnership.  Moreover, the worksheet helps unearth the professional viewpoints by bringing the background of the issue into the fore. By looking at the problem through multiple lenses namely, through a relationship perspective, a cultural background perspective, the clients background perspective and a socio-economic perspective, the process sets the stage before we delve deeper into what we would call ‘the life of the problem’ by systematically reflecting through:

  1. the symptoms and function of the underlying issue/s
  2. what maintains the problem
  3. the observations of problem’s consequences

Download template for Engaging Clients here

Case-assessment Worksheets

A practical and participatory tool that helps people establish and articulate their ‘wills’ (what they want to do) and their aspirations (what they want the see happening in their lives). It helps envision how scenarios and circumstances could be realistically changed.  In starting with the Problem Definition/Overview, these worksheets institute a collaborative step-by-step process (which, by no means should be formulaic), that helps people:

  • identify their wills
  • map a range of possibilities that help reach their goals
  • critically reflect on the feasibility of the possibilities identified
  • formulate a meaningful and realistic plan of action.

Download case-assessment worksheets