At a recent series of presentations to senior
managers, two social work students gave their impressions of the
department. They estimated that only 20 per cent of their time on
placement had been spent in direct contact with clients. They spoke
with some dismay about the amount of report writing, recording and
form-filling. Some of the front-line managers and social workers in
the audience nodded knowingly.

was striking to me and other members of the management team was
that these students had chosen a field social work office for a
placement and apparently expected to spend most of their time
working directly with families, disabled people or older people.
For many years now a trend that started in social work with older
people has spread across client groups to disabled people and now
to social work with children and families. That trend is for social
work to be increasingly specialist and for the core task to be
assessment. Identifying needs and risks, co-ordinating services to
best meet an individual’s needs and reduce risks, identifying clear
outcomes to be achieved from involvement and reviewing these
arrangements to see if they are working.

involves report writing, recording and form-filling but not much
face-to-face contact after the initial assessment. The support and
contact is provided by others.

this same conference was a presentation by staff at a family
resource centre. They illustrated their work with the example of a
young mother with four children under seven. A history of drug
abuse and domestic violence, one child with behaviour problems, one
with chronic asthma, another with speech problems and a baby
failing to gain weight. Staff from the family resource centre were
in daily contact with the family.

this and other similar presentations at the conference all had in
common was that the highly committed and skilled staff had
considerable face-to-face contact with those they were helping.
They worked as part of a team, with the whole family, with a range
of professionals and had direct contact with the client, but none
of them were social workers.

surprising thing about our social work students was their lack of
knowledge about social services. They had entered social work
training wanting lots of face-to-face contact with the people they
were seeking to help but had chosen areas of social work with
little direct contact with clients.

work courses do not seem to recognise that field social work is
most often about a time-limited specialist input around initial
assessment. The support work based on frequent face-to-face contact
is done by other staff in other areas of work – areas that have
traditionally not attracted the same status or rewards. This comes
as a shock to students.

Blair McPherson is head of
strategy and planning, Lancashire social

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