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Introducing social work: a starter kit
Introducing social work: a starter kit

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1 What would you prefer?

This is a photograph of a woman sitting outside.
Figure 2

In this section, you’ll examine the personal qualities and characteristics of social workers themselves.

Activity 1 I would like my social worker to …

Imagine that you are a service user who is anticipating receiving a social work service. You might have a disability and be housebound, or you might have a mental health problem such as anxiety or depression and receive support because of the impact this is having on yourself and your family. Alternatively, any service user issue drawn from the tasks listed in Session 1, Activity 3, would be relevant for you to consider for this activity. Imagine also that so far, you have not met your social worker.

For the purposes of this activity in your imaginary role as service user, list some of the characteristics about your new social worker as a person, and about them as a professional helper for your problems and needs, that you hope they will have. What kind of ‘person’ do you think might be the most helpful for you as the stranger who is about to become your social worker?

Begin your list with the phrase:

‘I would like my social worker to …’

When your list is complete, read the answer to discover some of the common responses of service users to being asked this kind of question.

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‘I would like my social worker to …’

  • be respectful and show courtesy
  • be kind, caring and compassionate
  • show empathy
  • be warm and demonstrate flexibility
  • have a good capacity for self-awareness
  • be honest, especially if they are not able to help
  • have good communication skills
  • be well informed
  • be reliable
  • be able to explain things to me without being condescending
  • really listen to me, and for me to feel listened to and heard
  • act effectively on my behalf
  • be able to make practical things happen
  • be authentic
  • be able to be informal with me, but remain professional
  • show that they genuinely care about service users
  • explain their role in a way that I can understand
  • tell me about my rights and entitlements
  • involve me in decision making about me
  • be accountable for what they do and not to blame others unfairly.
(List drawn from Watters et al., 2016)

Service users are often vulnerable and likely to have had many previous experiences of being marginalised, where their strengths and qualities have been undervalued or ignored. It is reasonable therefore that they should expect social workers to present themselves and act in ways that are ethically sound, professional, and which demonstrate good levels of personal warmth. Social workers are unlikely to be saints – but service users have a right to expect high standards.