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Introducing social work: a starter kit
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6 Social work roles

This is a photograph which focuses on a young man while sitting in a crowd.
Figure 5

While social workers and social care staff undertake a wide range of different tasks, these are almost always approached in the context of a role or an approach, or a combination of roles and approaches. Beckett and Horner (2016, pp. 31–43) suggest that there are three principal areas of roles in this regard: Advocacy; Direct change agent; and Executive, as shown below.

Advocacy roles

Helping to give a service user a ‘voice’, either directly by speaking on their behalf, or indirectly by helping them to more effectively speak for themselves.

Direct Change agent roles

This involves the constructive use of the self by the social worker. This can include acting as a counsellor or therapist, as a mediator between various parties, or an educator, or as a catalyst.

Executive roles

These roles involve making things happen, in a practical sense, bringing about change but not necessarily because of direct personal interaction. This can involve being a gatekeeper, care manager, responsibility holder, control agent, co-ordinator, or service developer.

(Beckett and Horner, 2016)

Rarely would a social worker operate exclusively in just one of these roles. More commonly they will be interchangeable on a continual basis. There is though likely to be a tendency towards a cluster of related roles for individual practitioners in specific practice settings.