Social case work is the primary method in social work practice. In social case work, a social worker works with an individual, helps an individual who faces problems in day-to-day functioning. This method deals with both the social and psychological aspects of an individual’s life. The term “social” implies the experiences of the individual with other people and his/her environment, and the term “psychological” implies the thoughts and feelings which occupy the mind within an individual. Thus, the social aspects deal with the interpersonal experiences of the individual and the psychological aspects deal with the intrapersonal experiences of a human being. In order to understand the individual person, it is important to understand the various components of social case work and the importance of the components in dealing with the problems of the individual.

Social case work is defined by Mary Richmond in 1915, as “the art of doing different things for and with different people by cooperating with them to achieve at one and the same time their own and society’s betterment.”

The nucleus of social case work is given by H.H. Perlman which is, ‘a person with a problem comes to a place where a professional representative helps him by a given process’. This entire phenomenon is also known as the 4P’s and is used in most situations where a person seeks professional help.

There are four components of casework known as the 4 P’s:

  1. The person
  2. The problem
  3. The place
  4. The process

        I.            THE PERSON

The person is any individual who is under stress or is facing problems in his/her life. The person can be a

man, woman or a child. The person in social work terminology is called the ‘client’. The person may have problems due to his/her inability of adjusting to the existing situation which is created by forces that are beyond his/her control. This problem can be social, economic, or psychological in nature. When confronted by a problem, an individual usually tries to solve the problem by employing solutions from his/her previous experiences. However, when the problem does not seem to resolve, external support is needed and then the individual seeks professional help. A person becomes a ‘client’ as soon as he starts getting professional help.

The person or the client has several unmet needs, concerns, and problems. These problems are unique to his/her situation. Every person is unique and has his own set of social and cultural environments in which he/she lives which makes the person have unique social experiences. At the same time, the person is also part of the social environment and shares the commonalities of humankind, and has a set of transactions with other people. The person is unique and different from every other member of his/her family or society.

Clients are of the following types:

  • Those who seek help for themselves.
  • Those who seek help for another person.
  • Those who block or threaten the social functioning of another person (e.g., the neglectful parent in a child protection case).
  • Those who seek help for inappropriate goals.
  • Those who seek help as a means to reach their own goals or ends.

The nature of social casework will depend on identifying the type of client and the problem he/she seeks to resolve.

Felix Biestik (1957) has identified seven needs of clients as they come to the helping situation:

  1. To be dealt with as an individual rather than a type or category.
  2. To express feelings both positively and negatively.
  3. To be accepted as a person of worth, a person with innate dignity.
  4. Sympathetic understanding of and response to feelings expressed.
  5. To be neither judged nor condemned for the difficulty in which the clients find themselves.
  6. To make own choices and decisions concerning one’s own life.
  7. To help keep the information confidential about self as secret as possible.

To understand a person, it is essential to understand the personality of the person. The personality structure plays an important role in determining how the behavior of the person is affecting the social functioning of the person. According to Freud, a person’s behavior is governed by three forces of personality structure, viz. id (life forces of the individual), ego (which is conscious and drives our personality forces), and superego (which is unconscious and consists of ethical values and principles).

Every human being is hindered by some obstacles and tries to cope with the problem. If the coping is not successful, he/she looks for outside help to solve their issues to return to regular functioning. A person seeking help not only brings innumerable concerns, needs, and problems, but also brings with him/her perceptions of self, the situations and patterns of coping with stress, and patterns of interpersonal relationships. The role of the social worker is to understand the client as a unique person in a unique situation. Since the social and cultural background of a person varies therefore these problems or unmet needs could be unique.


A problem is an obstacle or a hindrance in the normal functioning of an individual. Problems usually arise due to unmet needs, maladjustments, and frustrations. When these unmet needs or frustrations prolong for a longer period of time and start affecting the social functioning of an individual, they take shape of problems. Thus, intrapersonal problems arise due to unmet needs and desires of the person, which affect the person’s living situation or the effectiveness of his/her efforts to deal with it.

Dimensions of problems

There are several dimensions in which a problem may arise. Some of these are listed below:

  1. Intrapersonal problem: When maladjustments and frustrations arise due to personal issues of an individual and block their social functioning, these problems are intrapersonal in nature. These problems only affect the concerned person and the surroundings of a person.
  2. Interpersonal problem: When problems arise due to some external cause, situation, or the surroundings of an individual and make him/her uncomfortable, these problems are interpersonal in nature. Interpersonal problems also affect the people who surround us like family, friends, etc.
  3. Physiological problems: Physiological problems are caused due to ailments in a certain body part or due to physical illness. When a person experiences a prolonged disease, it starts to affect his/her mental health and therefore it becomes important to be addressed.
  4. Economic problems: Fulfillment of basic needs is imperative for every human being. Problems arising due to poverty are one of the basic problems. People all over the world are facing an economic crisis. Society is divided into various classes – upper, middle, and lower. The upper class is capable of affording almost all the luxuries, the middle class is capable of at least fulfilling all the basic requirements, while the lower class faces a crisis in their daily life.
  5. Psychological problems: Psychological issues are usually related to the mind and behavior of a person. Anxiety, depression, paranoia, etc., are the extreme results of a prolonged psychological problem.

Casework helps in problem-solving. It tries to provide an intervention to break or modify the cause-and-effect chain of problems. Social casework tries to assess the situation of the client and the available means and processes to facilitate the client’s problem-solving efforts. Three main considerations enter into the choice of problem focus: 1) what the client wants 2) what the caseworker’s professional judgments point to as possible and desirable solutions and 3) what the agency is for and can offer.

    III.            THE PLACE

‘The place’ is a social service agency or a social service department where the person comes for help with his/her problem. A place may include a larger institution (e.g., the local authority), or a smaller social work microcosm (e.g., the psychiatric social work department in a mental hospital). A place may also include the institutions in which caseworkers practice (schools, child guidance clinics, children’s departments of hospitals and courts, and so on).

Classification of Social casework agencies:

Social casework agencies may be classified based on the following three factors:

  1. Source of support- These are the agencies that are funded by public taxation (child welfare, physical and mental health programs, etc.) or voluntary contributions.
  2. Source of professional authority – Some agencies are primary agencies that carry full authority and responsibility for their social functions and some are secondary agencies that derive their authority and responsibility from the host agency.
  3. Special function and area of concern- Primary agencies may be both public and private. These agencies choose to work in particular areas in which they give services. Secondary agencies are associated with the work of some other profession, such as medicine, education, or law, and cater to their specific knowledge and purpose.

Characteristics of social agency

Some of the characteristics of social agency as given by Pearlman are described below:

  1. Help the society: A social agency protects members of society by helping individuals and groups against social breakdowns, preventing their maladjustments, and to promote the development of better or higher levels of human functioning.
  2. Develops a suitable program: A social agency develops particular programs and activities depending on the needs of the people, the availability of funds, the knowledge and competency of the agency staff, and the interest, resources, and support of the community.
  3. Has an organizational structure: The social agency has a structure and is made up of many members with different purposes and powers, all dependent upon one another in the agency’s overall functioning. Each member of the agency is assigned different tasks and responsibilities.
  4. Consists of skilled personnel: The agency consists of a trained caseworker who has specialized knowledge and skill to deal with problems of people to assist them in better social functioning.
  5. Meeting point for the client and social worker: The agency brings the client and social worker together and enables them to interact in a professional manner. In the majority of cases, it provides the meeting point for the social worker and the client.

Social workers need to understand the agency in which they are employed. They also need to be able to understand other social agencies working in the allied areas. The first task in understanding an agency is to define its boundaries. The second task is to determine environmental factors that influence the structure and functioning of the agency. The third task is to understand the structure and functioning of the agency system.

   IV.            THE PROCESS

A process is a number of stages or steps followed by the case worker to help the client. It is mandatory for a professional worker to follow certain steps in order to help the client. The worker is required to maintain a good rapport with the client throughout the process. The worker helps the client to strengthen his/her coping mechanism in a problematic situation. The professional social worker accepts the client, develops a good relationship with the client, and tries to elicit facts. The facts stated by the client are properly diagnosed and the worker helps the client to arrive at the solution, ensuring the full participation of the client in the process.

The first part of the casework process is to ascertain and clarify the facts of the problem. The second phase of the casework process is thinking through the facts. The conclusive phase of each problem-solving effort in casework is the making of some choice or decision.

Stages of the Problem-Solving Process

The following stages explain the processes involved in the problem-solving in social case work:

  1. Preliminary statement of the problem: This involves a clear, precise, and accurate statement of the problem. Often the problem statement is vague, global, and lacking in precision.
  2. Statement of preliminary assumptions about the nature of the problem: After clearly stating the problem, assumptions are made regarding the nature and cause of the problem. This gives an indication regarding the need to solve the problem and understand the hurdles in fulfilling this need.
  3. Selection and collection of information: Information may be collected from a variety of sources including historical, social, psychological, biological, economic, political, religious, and ethical understandings. The client is the primary source of information regarding the problem.
  4. Analysis of information available: The information gathered regarding the problem is analyzed in order to determine feasible goals, possible outcomes, possible plans of action, interpretation of the meaning of the information gathered, and evaluation.
  5. Development of a plan: Gathering and analyzing information leads to an understanding of what can be done to remove obstacles that are blocking need fulfillment. A plan is developed regarding the possible solutions considering various strategies and techniques.
  6. Implementation of the plan: The plan is put into action in order to solve the problem of the person.
  7. Continuous monitoring and evaluation: While the plan is in operation, it is constantly monitored and reviewed. While implementing the plan, a constant evaluation must include a gathering of more information. Once the goal is reached, an evaluation of the plan is undertaken in order to understand the outcome of the plan.

Steps of the Problem-Solving Process

The following steps are given by Mary Richmond in 1917 to solve the problem of the client:

  1. Intake: Whenever a person seeking help comes to an organization, an administrative process of enrolling the client is performed by the agency. Intake can also be explained as the acceptance of the client as he/she is by the case worker. A case worker has to maintain a nonjudgmental attitude toward the client. The professional worker in this step establishes a relationship with the client and tries to make the client comfortable.
  2. Study: Once a relationship is established, the worker tries to elicit various facts and information from the client. Probing is a well-known technique performed by a skilled caseworker to understand the deep aspirations and underlying issues while dealing with the client. A preliminary analysis starts at this stage.
  3. Diagnosis: In this stage, the worker tries to diagnose the problem of the client after studying the facts provided by the client. Diagnosis is understanding the nature of the cause of the problem. The worker thoroughly assesses the already known information and tries to reach the roots of the problem. Diagnosis is of three types:
    • Dynamic diagnosis: Dynamic refers to analyzing the current problem. Dynamic diagnosis is assessing the current issues, surroundings, and feelings of the client.
    • Clinical diagnosis: In this type of diagnosis, the worker gathers information related to the behavior of the client. Here the case worker analyses the behavioral patterns and personality traits of the client. This type of diagnosis helps in understanding the nature of the problem and a particular behavior or trait related to the problem. Clinical diagnosis helps in understanding various personality disorders.
    • Etiological diagnosis: This type of diagnosis deals with the background and the life history of the client. It also studies the family history to understand certain personality patterns and helps in assessing the success of the employed alternative coping mechanisms of the client.


  1. Treatment: The last step in the problem-solving process is the treatment which is the sum total of all the activities implemented to provide immediate relief to the client. Treatment is done to avoid the breakdown of an individual and restore his/her social functioning. It is to strengthen the psychology of the client.

Components of the Problem-Solving Process

The components of the problem-solving process include assessment, planning, action and termination. Although assessment precedes planning, planning precedes action and termination precedes action, the process is cyclic in nature.

Planning for a solution to the problem involves understanding the situation of the person. This understanding includes an assessment. Action often leads to new information for use in understanding or demonstrates the need for additional planning. Evaluation, the assessment of what has happened as a result of an action, is ongoing in the process and leads to new understanding and sometimes to new plans and actions. Thus, all four stages are always present, but at various points in the work, one or more may be the focus and receive the most attention.

All the above four stages as well as the interactional process constitute intervention. All can influence changes in the transactions between clients and the systems in their environment. All can influence the social functioning of individuals and social systems.

The casework process aims to engage the client with his/her problem and encourages him/her to do something about it. This happens within a working relationship of the client with the agency and the social caseworker.

Many times, the solution to a problem involves the provision of material means or opportunities which are accessible to the person who is in need. Some resources that any person may need in order to resolve a given problem in his/her daily living include money, medical care, nursery schools, scholarship, short-stay homes, foster homes, recreational facilities, etc. It is essential that the caseworker is informed about these resources and when and how to use them.

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