Social workers support individuals and families through difficult times and help them cope with various physical and mental health conditions. Social workers have a number of important roles, one of them being assessment. When clients are properly assessed it allows the social worker’s support to get off to the best possible start.
An assessment will be a series of steps that will help the social worker evaluate the client’s needs to be able to maximize the effectiveness of any support the patient will receive. The assessment process will vary depending upon several factors such as a client’s age, background, and the nature of their condition. For this reason, it is important for social workers to have a number of strategies in place to ensure their assessment is as effective as possible.
Strategies for effective assessment
When conducting assessments, a social worker will need to first decide which strategies are likely to be the most effective in giving them the information they need to evaluate the client. Being able to quickly decide on the best strategies is something that will come with experience; with social workers facing new challenges every day, there is always more to learn.
Gaining additional qualifications can help you learn the strategies that are likely to work best in particular circumstances and conditions, and this extra knowledge can boost a social worker’s career. Gaining these qualifications, however, does not necessarily mean having to take time away from work. Online accredited courses from top universities provide online study materials and practicums in your local community. The online MSW Advanced Standing program from Cleveland State University is a great example of a course through which students who opt for the clinical specialization will gain a thorough understanding of the assessments appropriate when treating mental illness and emotional or behavioral disorders.
Below are some of the strategies currently in place that a student might learn to implement in their future career as a social worker.
Genogram and ecomap
A genogram and ecomap help the social worker better understand the client’s family background and their wider social links. The genogram maps out the client’s immediate family links and the ecomap can be used to look beyond that to their wider family, friendships, community groups, and any other individuals or groups who might impact the individual.
As well as simply naming the relevant individuals and groups the genogram and ecomap can be used to evaluate the relationships with different demarcations showing whether the relationship is strong and positive, weak and tenuous, or a source of stress.
Genograms and ecomaps can be very useful in spotting patterns in an individual and their family history, as well as giving insights into the cultural and political background of the client. However, it is important for social workers to be aware of the limitations of genograms and ecomaps; they rely on the accuracy and reliability of the provided by the client and often do not provide a comprehensive picture.
Self-assessment is something that the client completes themselves. It provides a look at a number of factors from the client’s perspective, giving the social worker valuable insights into their state of mind. The exact questions a social worker will ask as part of a self-assessment will be tailored to the individual but might include questions about their social and financial responsibilities, their health, their religious or spiritual beliefs, and their wider needs, interests, and goals.
It is a good idea to encourage the client to be as detailed as possible. When self-assessment is completed on a number of occasions throughout the program, it can show a progression that can encourage the client and help the social worker identify what is improving and what is not.
Anxiety can be quickly assessed using a tool known as GAD-7, indicating whether a client has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic disorder (PD), general anxiety disorder (GAD), or specific phobia (SP). It features a list of seven questions that the client must answer regarding the frequency of their anxious thoughts and feelings. This can then give the social worker an indication of whether the client is suffering from mild, moderate, or severe anxiety.
A culturagram is a useful tool to help to understand clients from all cultures, religions, countries, and backgrounds. It allows social workers to be diverse in their understanding and often includes simple questions on culture such as clothing or food as well as attitudes towards aspects of life such as family or education. Additionally, it looks into whether any elements of a client’s cultural background have caused any trauma, discrimination, or oppression.
Having a fuller understanding of a client’s cultural background can give a social worker insights into how trauma or a condition has manifested, and therefore what strategies for treatment will be most effective.
The five S’s
The ‘five S’s’ stand for different areas of the client’s life and can help the social worker put together a program that tackles problems in order of urgency. The five S’s are:
- ‘Situation’ – the reasons why the client is seeing a social worker.
- ‘Safety’ – checks whether the client is in any danger and if there is anything that needs immediate resolution.
- ’Survival’ – considers whether the client’s basic living needs are being met.
- ‘Support’ or ‘Strength’ – informs the social worker of the client’s current support network.
- ‘Short-term’ – considers the immediacy of the client’s challenges.
Forming a care plan
Using the information gathered from assessments, the social worker can form a plan on how to best support their client and get them to a place where they can lead a fulfilling life. Assessment strategies are not tools that are just used once. It may be that assessments will need to be completed on an ongoing basis as the client makes progress, faces new challenges, or a situation changes. With each new assessment, the care plan can be adapted as necessary.