Applying social work skills in practice
Applying social work skills in practice

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

Applying social work skills in practice

1 Social work: needs and risks

You begin your study by exploring the role of the social worker in relation to needs and risk. This is an important topic to engage with early, as it is both politically sensitive and of concern to all practitioners. Most of the work allocated to social workers contains elements of need and elements of risk. They need to understand the relationship between these two aspects of need and risk, and to develop the skills to make balanced assessments where necessary. While these are abstract concepts on paper, in the reality of everyday practice social workers intervene in the lives of some of society’s most vulnerable citizens. It is therefore important for social workers to be articulate and accountable for the choices and decisions they make. Many new social workers are understandably nervous about their interventions in the current climate of media scrutiny, and this is also examined here. Let us begin by thinking about the range of risks that social workers manage on behalf of society.

Activity 1 The social work role and risk management

Allow about 15 minutes

Write down some risks that social workers are expected to manage on behalf of society. Draw from your own experiences or knowledge.

You can type text here, but this facility requires a free OU account. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


It is likely that you identified many areas within social work where there are roles relating to risk. This may include:

  • protecting children (for example, from neglect and/or from physical, sexual and emotional abuse)
  • managing offending behaviour
  • preventing adults from self-harming (such as suicide, drug use or alcohol abuse)
  • protecting individuals from domestic violence
  • assisting older people in order to reduce risks to themselves from physical impairments and mental deterioration, and/or protecting them through packages of care or residential placements
  • supporting people experiencing mental ill health
  • supporting adults with learning disabilities in order to maximise their life chances and avoid exploitation
  • assisting adults with personal care budgets.

You may have included other aspects of social work practice not mentioned here.

The roles identified above all need skilled understandings and interventions. This is a reminder that ‘risk’ in social work is defined by the remit of a social worker’s agency, the law, complex factors in society and individual perspectives on what kinds of risks are acceptable and what is considered unacceptable. It may reassure you that much of the social work that social workers undertake is still concerned with moderate levels of risk.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has over 40 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus