Methods of Social Work

Methods of Social Work

There are six methods of social work, the first three directly intervene with clients while the last three support the first three by dealing with the client’s problems. These are broadly grouped into two: The Primary and Secondary methods. They are presented in a diagrammatic form.

As a profession, social work has relied on methods or techniques that have been tested over a period of time (Uranta & Ogbanga, 2017). A method is what a social worker actually does when working with client(s). It is what to do when faced with a certain phenomenon (Teater, 2010). These methods and activities have become the pillars of social work practice and their nomenclature stood out to describe them as “social work methods”, “social work activities”, or “social work processes”. These terms can be used interchangeably (Rao, 2011). They are used by social workers to help people of all ages and from various sections of society to enhance their social functioning and to cope more effectively with their problems (Okoye, 2013).

A.     Primary Methods

The primary methods are also called direct helping methods. Here, the social worker intervenes directly with the client(s) who need the professional services of a social worker at the individual, group, and community level. Primary means basic to something, or before all others. These are Social case work, Social group work, and Community organization.

1.      Social Case Work:

It is a unique method of problem-solving that helps an individual solve his/her psycho-social problems. It assists individuals to adjust to their environment more satisfactorily. One of its first proponents, Richmond (1992) posits that “it consists of those processes which develop personality through adjustments consciously effected, individual by individual, between men and their social environment”. An individual is involved in the problem as s/he is unable to deal with it on his/her own, because of reasons beyond his/her control. His/her anxiety sometimes temporarily makes him/her incapable of solving it. In any case, his/her social functioning is disturbed. The case worker gets information regarding the client’s total environment, finds out the causes, prepares a treatment plan, and with a professional relationship tries to bring about a change in the perception and attitudes of the client.

Social case work encompasses a whole array of activities. Social casework enables an individual to obtain a higher level of social functioning through an interpersonal transaction or face-to-face or person-to-person encounter. The caseworker helps the client to achieve some personal/social goals by utilizing the available resources in terms of the strength of personality of the client, his social system, or material provisions available in the community and/or agency. A caseworker’s knowledge expertise, and material resources are used (as tools) to inject strengths in the person to enable him to move more satisfyingly in the social situation he finds difficult to deal with.

The principles of social work guide case work practice and its objective is to develop resources to enhance social functioning, to remedy and prevent problems in social functioning. In social case work the worker-client relationship is characterized by mutual acceptance and rapport. It has four basic components: person, problem, place, and process (study, diagnosis, treatment, evaluation, termination and follow-up). According to Perlman (1952), every social case work model utilizes techniques and theories from psychosocial treatment, functional casework, problem-solving, crisis-oriented short-term casework, task-centered casework, and behavior modification.

2.      Social group work:

A group is defined as ‘two or more individuals who are connected to one another by social relationships. Groups are a fundamental part of human experience and social life. They allow people to develop more complex and larger-scale activities; are significant sites of socialization and education; and provide settings where relationships can form and grow, and where people can find help and support. Groups can be highly rewarding to their members and society as a whole. “Social work practice with groups is founded on the premise that people are enriched by interpersonal experiences structured around collectively defined goals, satisfying peer relationships, and shared decisionmaking on the group’s life” (Uranta & Ogbanga, 2017).

A group can be natural or it can be formed by people. Natural groups are those groups that developed in an unexplained way or the natural cause of an event. Examples include a family, a tribe, and a class. Formed groups are those that were consciously created to deal with specific circumstances that are of interest and concern to several or many people (Ezeh, Ezeah, and Aniche, 2010). Social work with groups represents a broad domain of direct social work practice. Social workers work with a variety of groups in all settings in which social work is practiced.

It is clear that the social group work method helps individuals establish constructive relationships through group activities. This is because group experiences are essential to human beings. The members of the group are helped by the social worker who guides the group members’ interaction in programs. The group interaction helps an individual to develop his/herself in accordance with abilities and capacities and thus empowers to mobilize their available resources for their own improvement.

3.      Community organization:

This method of social work is also called macro practice. Working with communities has been recognized as a key work for social workers. Indeed, the community is a natural site for practice because the individuals who are the main focus of social work practice live in communities. However, community organization is a contested topic as it varies across different contexts (Heena & Birrell, 2011). It could range from community building through services provided by the government or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as well as community-based organizations (CBOs) to community organizing, which focuses on challenging social and structural inequalities through mobilization and activism across different levels organized by various local and global sectors (Loomis, 2012; Midgley, 2010). Principles of social work and historical social movements urging for social justice, equality, human rights, empowerment of individuals/communities, and working in partnership with service users are influences to community development.

Community organization is the process of mobilizing and empowering communities through their institutions, organizations, groups, leaders, advocates, and volunteers. It is a long-term process whereby people who are marginalized or living in poverty work together to identify their needs, create change, exert more influence in the decisions that affect their lives, and work to improve the quality of their lives and the communities in which they live. Community organization is often distinguished from community planning. It entails processes directed at social change, management of social conflict, and planning. The most popular approach to community organization is Rothman’s (1974) three models of community organizing which is based on the belief that to affect change, a wide variety of community people must be involved in the planning, implementation, and evaluation as well as social planning which involves a technical process of problem-solving and often provides little opportunity for citizenship input. It is a top-down approach; and social action where the practitioner assumes that a disadvantaged segment needs to be organized to make demands on the larger community for increased resources or improved treatment in accordance with social justice or democracy.

The roles of the community social worker are enabler, advocate, broker, educator, and counselor. The community social worker/organizer with his/ her expertise in human relationships can hold the community members together under difficult conditions with the help of the local leadership. The community social worker through the application of knowledge and social work skills helps the community specify their felt need (problem), formulate effective and realizable goals, develop strategies for execution, identify financial resources, and mount direct action campaigns to achieve the required outcome.

B.     Secondary Methods

These are those methods which are intended to support the primary methods. Here, the social worker indirectly deals with the client’s problem.

4.      Social welfare administration

Social problems like poverty, ill health, disability, internal displacement, destitution, crime, violence, etc. in Nepal require the establishment of social welfare agencies by the government, NGOs, CBOs, religious bodies, and private individuals. Human service organizations are more complex to run and thus require the employment of persons with specialized knowledge of the agency’s aims, programs, methods of social treatment, and social resources.

Social welfare administration has two concepts embedded in it: “social welfare” and “administration”. Thus, it requires an understanding of the origins of social welfare as well as administration as a tool for achieving welfare. Social welfare is an organized system of social services and institutions designed to aid individuals and groups in attaining satisfying standards of life and health (Friedlander, 1977). Administration is a universal process of efficiently organizing people and directing their activities toward common goals and objectives. In other words, whenever you are talking of administration, you are looking at where people are working with a common goal (Simon, 1978).

Social welfare administration is a method of practice that looks for administrative and managerial skills among practitioners in the execution of welfare services. It is used to transform social policy into action. It is a two-way process of transforming policy into concrete social services and use of experience in recommending modification of policy (Rameshwari & Ravi, 1998). This method makes use of scientific and administrative techniques of planning, implementing, directing, monitoring, organizing, reporting, coordinating, and evaluating services rendered for the welfare and development of the people. Its scope includes Planning, Organising, Staffing, Directing, Coordinating, Reporting and Budgeting (POSDCoRB).

The social worker through training acquires the skills to effectively see to the humane operation of these agencies. Planning is an intellectual activity requiring adequate knowledge and vision about social causes and a prerequisite for good service delivery. Organizational skill is the administrator’s raw material. From the aforementioned, it could be concluded that problems facing social agencies in the country are largely attributable to poor administration due to the non-inclusion of trained social workers in the agencies.

5.      Social Work Research

The effective planning and implementation of development programs and projects in the country depend largely on the availability of reliable, adequate, and valid data. Social work research is the systematic and scientific study of social problems to produce knowledge for planning and carrying out social work problems. It is a powerful tool in all social work settings and is used in all the methods of social work discussed earlier. For instance, all the social problems we have been citing so far can only be understood if we have scientific and systematic methods to find out their various causes to formulate specific intervention strategies to arrive at solutions.

The following highlights the importance of social work research:

  • Helps in identifying the social problem, its intensity and extensiveness, its causal factors, its impact on the target population, and its repercussions on the social life of the people.
  • Gives an understanding of the factual ground realities (not mere perceptions) of the social situations, which in turn aid in conceptualizing the pros and cons of possible intervention strategies.
  • Helps social workers gain in-depth knowledge about a social problem, the factors contributing to it and it impact on the socio-cultural and economic life of clients.
  • Helps to focus on social issues prevailing in the organization by studying various aspects such as the team climate to understand factors that are affecting team effectiveness through a proper understanding of group effectiveness (Bhattacharyya, 2008).

Finally, a systematic study of social problems is a must for the attainment of goals in all the methods of social work. Research findings thus help in the formulation of goals for change, and the design of intervention plans according to the needs of clients. However, as some scholars have observed, some social, political and economic issues impede social research in Nigeria (Chukwu, Ebue, Obikeguna, Arionu, Agbawodikeizu, & Agwu, 2016).

6.      Social Action

This was first coined by Mary E. Richmond in 1922. According to her, it is the “mass betterment through propaganda and social legislation”. Unlike other methods, social action emphasizes long-term essential changes in established social institutions. It covers movements of social, religious and political reform, social legislation, racial and social justice, human rights, freedom and civic liberty.

It aims at desirable social action and social progress and it is used to tackle controversial issues aimed at bringing about structural changes in the social system or to prevent adverse changes. As a method of social work, it adheres to the philosophy of professional social work which does not blame people for deficiency or problem; believes in the dignity and worth of human beings; rejects the doctrine of laissez-faire and survival of the fittest; adopts a commitment to the capacity of all people to take action through a non-elitist highly skilled process; and facilitate members to make choices and take action for themselves. This calls for skills used in combination with professional social work ethics and principles.

The first is the principle of credibility building which means that the community people must have faith and confidence in the social worker. Second, legitimization means that the social worker should make the people believe that their actions to achieve set goals are legitimate. Third is dramatization done through strategies like slogans, emotionally powerful speeches, and rallies to create dramatic effects. Fourth, the dual approach is a combination of confrontation and constructive developmental activities. Fifth, multiple strategies involve the use of different ways and means. And lastly, manifold programs aimed at tackling social, economic, and cultural issues, among others (Siddiqui, 1984; Moorthy, 1966; Mishra, 1992; Antony & Kaushik, n.d.).

Social workers practicing social action should be versed in skills of rapport building (relational); objective analysis of social situations and problems (analytical and research); ability to use other methods of social work like case work, group work, social welfare administration adequately and appropriately (intervention); knowledge to handle organizations, coordinate and collaborate with various groups and local leaders (managerial); effective verbal communication (communication); and be able to train local leaders for mass mobilization and confrontation with the authorities (training) (Antony & Kaushik, n.d.).

The social worker uses a lot of advocacy, propaganda, education, persuasion or pressure, public opinion, and collective support in social action. S/he raises awareness of the community people and helps organize them in an orderly manner so that they can achieve their objectives. As a method, its relevance is felt in field situations by mobilizing the general population to bring about structural changes in the social system.

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