Here’s a trick question.
What do you take when you go to do an assessment?
If your answer was paper and pen, you are forgiven.
Especially in a time such as this, where there seems to be more clients than social workers.
You might be burning out, but still struggling with the same issues during assessments.
The common problems during assessment
Ever walked out of the assessment, thinking that you got everything you needed, only to go into the BPSS assessment you’re supposed to write, and suddenly realising,
There’s so many things I don’t know.
One of the common pain-points in assessment is not going deep enough into a client’s story to get what you need, in order to put in quick wins.
Whilst some may say that there’s a limit to how much you can get from the initial intake assessment, the vital thing to realise is that you, as the social worker, simply do not have more time to keep going back and forth.
I used to remember that as an inexperienced social worker in my first 3 months, I might travel to a client’s home for 4 times before I felt that I had enough to write a comprehensive assessment.
This is definitely not an efficient way of doing your work, especially if you have 31 more clients on your caseload waiting for your assessments.
Working with younger clients who cannot express themselves
The second pain-point is that of not being able to get what you need, especially from those who are younger.
The younger clients you meet, especially those between the ages of 6 to 12, might not have the words to express the emotions or what has happened to them.
In those cases, you would need something different.
Tools you can use
With that, let’s start with the tools you can use.
For these assessment tools, we’ve selected those that are:
This means that they are able to be used in different contexts.
They should not be too difficult to learn how to pick up.
- Age appropriate
A tool like finger puppets may not be appropriate for older clients.
Make a checklist
After 3 months, I realised I needed a checklist, so that I wouldn’t forget what I needed to ask.
This is my own, which I hope would help.
|Problem||What is the challenge you’re facing today?|
|History||How did this happen?
Tell me about the lead-up to this problem.
|Biological||Tell me more about your family.
Who are the members of your family?
What’s your relationship like with these family members?
|Psychological||How do you feel? Why do you feel this way?|
|Social||What’s the current support you get from people around you?|
What I think can sometimes be difficult is the ability of your client to visualise what is happening. In those cases, I find it helpful to make a genogram, or a eco map for them.
A genogram is simply a family tree. Using this genogram, you can easily help the client to see the relationships they have with others.
This can also help you figure out where the sources of strength are, in his family.
As a young student social worker, one of my mandatory observations involved my supervisor watching me use this assessment tool together with an adult with learning needs.
On the surface, he looked like someone normal. He had tattoos, and always dressed fashionably.
But we knew that he struggled because when he opened his freezer, it would often be overflowing with food.
That’s when we knew he needed help.
Drawing out an eco map can help in terms of figuring out
- Where the current support systems are
- Where there are gaps in the support system.
I remember the time when I was working with someone with learning disabilities, when I struggled with getting her to express how she felt. Having learning needs restricted her ability to share.
I then remembered. I had just been taught the use of a new tool!
I took out the feelings card, and asked her,
What color do you feel today?
If you’re struggling with getting young children to share, you can use this.
Often children may not have the exact words to label their emotions but they can use colors to talk about what they feel.
With no right and wrong answers, this can better push them towards making clearer indications of what they feel about the situations around them.
Animals to express their feelings
Another assessment tool is to use animals.
Animals are often well known to children, and can allow children to talk through the animals, rather than getting them to directly talk about themselves.
They might not feel comfortable directly talking about the harm that has been caused to them. But they might feel more comforted having an animal to talk through.
With these animal cards, I often might ask the child,
What animal do you like best?
What animal do you feel is your friend? Why do you say that?
What’s a scary animal for you? Why?
These are animal cards, with associated values, from the International Futures Forum.
For example, if they picked the communication (or bee) card, they might say,
Oh I love the bee because I can always sting people if they offend me!
That might be an invitation to explore more.
Finger puppets as a means to storytelling
Often finger puppets can work for children below aged 9, who might not be as emotionally mature.
The finger puppets can be used to ask questions such as:
- Who do you like more? Robin or Wolfie? Why?
- Can you use Robin and Wolfie to describe a challenge you’ve faced?
- Let’s make a story! Robin and Wolfie went to the park one day…
Asking them to make a story can often be a means for them to metabolise their emotions.
The IFF Kitbag
One professor once asked me,
If you can identify a doctor by his stethoscope, then how do you identify the social worker?
I was stumped. For you, the social worker, what do you bring on your home visits that can help you to make those difficult conversations easier?
The IFF Kitbag is something that brings everything together in one easy way. Developed by The International Futures Forum, you can get it here.
Ultimately, the tool is you
Social work depends a lot on use of self, where you are the tool that’s being used in most settings. But that also means that you may often end up being burnt out.
Too many of us as social workers, do not use tools that can help to make our jobs easier.
Tools like the kitbag can help to make your life easier, by giving you more structure.
I will be the first to confess that I’ve tried to reinvent the wheel too much when I’ve worked with clients, trying too many times to come up with new assessment tools, when there are already others on the market.
You might just be surprised.