4. Social work roles in practice
In the previous section you considered the broad legal and policy framework within which social work exists, and looked at how professional values may be challenged or even at times supported by current social policy or legal developments. Nevertheless, social workers are able to develop and use their skills and knowledge in a wide variety of settings and with many different service users, and they do have opportunities to make a positive difference to people’s lives, even in very difficult circumstances.
Activity 6: What makes a good social worker?
Watch the videos below and jot down what each individual says about the qualities that makes a good social worker.
Transcript: Siân Parry, Service User
Transcript: Mr Howell Mudd, Carer
Transcript: Mags Jones, Social Worker
Transcript: Linda Thomas Newman, Social Work Manager
You may have had experience of social work intervention yourself – would you agree with these? Can you think of any other important qualities?
Good social work practice is primarily about relationships (Wilson et al., 2011) and engaging effectively with service users, carers and others to enable them to tell their stories. Establishing a good relationship is the starting point for working ‘with rather than on people’ (Beresford, 2012), and it is through the professional relationship that social workers ‘engage with and intervene in the complexity of an individual’s internal and external worlds’ (Wilson et al., 2011).
The service user and carer are very clear about the qualities they think a social worker should have, and these are crucial in establishing a good working relationship. The importance of listening and the other qualities identified reflect the ‘warmth, empathy, reliability and respect’ noted by Beresford (2012) as being what service users want from social workers – that is, the same kind of qualities one would expect in a trusted friend. This is consistently what service users and carers say they want from social workers. It is important that social workers listen to this and act upon it.