Social Work Toolbox: 37 Questions, Assessments, & Resources

Social Worker ToolboxUndoubtedly, the role of the social worker is a challenging one.

This may be because of its unlikely position, balanced between “the individual and society, the powerful and the excluded” (Davies, 2013, p. 3).

Social work is a unique profession because of its breadth and depth of engagement and the many governmental and private organizations with which it engages.

Not only does it help individuals and groups solve problems in psychosocial functioning, but it also attempts to support them in their life-enhancing goals and ultimately create a just society (Suppes & Wells, 2017).

This article provides a toolbox for social workers, with a selection of assessments and resources to support them in their role and career.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Strengths Exercises for free. These detailed, science-based exercises will help your service users realize their unique potential and create a life that feels energizing and authentic.

6 Best Resources for Social Workers

Demanding professions require dedicated and supportive resources that transform social work theory into practice. The following worksheets and tools target some of the most challenging and essential areas of social work (Rogers, Whitaker, Edmondson, & Peach, 2020; Davies, 2013):

 

Emotional intelligence

“Understanding emotion arises from the combined consciousness of how we perceive emotions and use our intellect to make sense of them” (Rogers et al., 2020, p. 47).

For social workers, emotional intelligence is invaluable. They must develop and maintain awareness of both their own and their client’s feelings and use the insights to select appropriate interventions and communication strategies without becoming overwhelmed.

The Reflecting on Emotions in Social Work worksheet encourages social workers to stop and consider their feelings following an initial client visit.

In the worksheet, the social worker is guided to find some quiet time and space to reflect on:

  • How do I feel about my initial visit?
  • What are my thoughts regarding the purpose of the visit?
  • How do I think I can proceed with developing a relationship with the client?
  • How do I think the client feels about my visit?

Being self-aware is a crucial aspect of social work and will inform the ongoing relationship with the client.

 

Fostering empathy

Mirror neurons fire when we watch others performing an action or experiencing an emotion. They play a significant role in learning new skills and developing empathy for another’s experiences (Thomson, 2010).

Social workers must become more aware of service users’ experiences, as they can influence and affect the interaction with them.

Use the Fostering Empathy Reflectively worksheet to improve the understanding of your own and others’ emotions and increase the degree of empathy.

Observing others can make social workers more aware of human behavior and the emotions and thoughts underneath to increase their capacity for empathy.

 

Reflective cycle

Reflecting on situations encountered on the job can help social workers fully consider their own and their clients’ thoughts and feelings before drawing conclusions. Indeed, “successful reflection emphasizes the centrality of self-awareness and the capacity for analysis” (Rogers et al., 2020, p. 64).

Use the Reflective Cycle for Social Work to reflect on events, incidents, and behaviors in a structured and systematic way (modified from Gibbs, 1988).

 

Challenging social interactions

Good communication skills and confidence in social interactions are essential for social work. There will be times when you need assertiveness to challenge others to ensure the client’s needs are met (Rogers et al., 2020).

However, like all skills, social skills can be learned and maintained through education and practice.

The Preparing for Difficult Social Interactions worksheet considers how a situation or event may unfold through focusing on the essential issues.

Practice and role-play can help social workers prepare for a more successful social interaction and gain confidence in their coping abilities.

 

Motivational Interviewing in Social Work

“Change can become difficult for service users when they are ambivalent about the extent to which the change will be beneficial” (Davies, 2013, p. 451).

One method used by social workers to explore their clients’ intrinsic values and ambivalence is through motivational interviewing (MI). MI has four basic principles (modified from Davies, 2013):

  • Expressing empathy
    Displaying a clear and genuine interest in the client’s needs, feelings, and perspective.
  • Developing discrepancy
    Watching and listening for discrepancies between a client’s present behavior and values and future goals.
  • Rolling with resistance
    Avoiding getting into arguments or pushing for change.
  • Supporting self-efficacy
    Believing in the client’s capacity to change.

The Motivational Interviewing in Social Work worksheet uses the five stages of change to consider the client’s readiness for change and as input for selecting an appropriate intervention (Prochaska & DiClemente, 1986; Davies, 2013).

The client should be encouraged to create and implement a plan, including goals and details of the specific tasks required.

 

Respectful practices

Rogers et al. (2020) identified several fundamental values that social workers should be aware of and practice with their service users, families, and other organizations with which they engage. These include:

  • Respect
  • Acceptance
  • Individuality
  • Honesty and integrity
  • Equality

The Respectful Practices in Social Work worksheet encourages reflection on whether a social worker remains in touch with their values and the principles expected in their work.

Social workers should frequently think of recent examples of interactions with clients, families, and other organizations, and ask themselves (modified from Rogers et al., 2020):

  • Were you polite, courteous, warm, and approachable?
  • How well did you accept people with different beliefs and values from your own?
  • Did you attempt to understand the person and their history?
  • Were you professional, open, honest, and trustworthy?
  • Did you treat each person equally, providing fair access to your time and resources?

A regular check-in to ensure high standards are being maintained and values remain clear will ensure the continued professionalism expected from a social worker.

 

Top 17 Questions to Ask Your Clients

Social work questions to askQuestioning is a crucial skill for social workers, often undertaken in emotional and challenging circumstances.

The following questions provide practical examples; practitioners should tailor them according to timing and context and remain sensitive to the needs of all involved (Rogers et al., 2020; Suppes & Wells, 2017; Davies, 2013).

 

Open questions

Open questions encourage the respondent to reflect and respond with their feelings, thoughts, and personal experiences. For example:

  • What is your view of what happened?
  • What has it been like living with this issue?
  • How could we work together to find a good solution?
  • What are your greatest fears?

 

Closed questions

Typically, closed questions are used to find out personal details such as name and address, but they can also provide focus and clarity to confirm information. Closed questions are especially important when dealing with someone with cognitive impairment or who finds it difficult to speak up, and can lead to follow-up, open questions.

For example:

  • How old are you?
  • Are you in trouble?
  • Are you scared?
  • Do you need help?

 

Hypothetical questions

Hypothetical questions can be helpful when we need the service user to consider a potentially different future, one in which their problems have been resolved. Such questions can build hope and set goals. For example:

  • Can you imagine how things would be if you did not live with the fear of violence?
  • Where would you like to be in a few years after you leave school?
  • Can you imagine what you would do if a similar situation were to happen again?

 

Strengths-based questions

“Focusing on strengths helps to move away from a preoccupation with risk and risk management” and builds strengths for a better future (Rogers et al., 2020, p. 243). Strengths-based questions can be powerful tools for identifying the positives and adopting a solution-focused approach.

Examples include:

  • Survival – How did you cope in the past?
  • Support – Who helps you and gives you support and guidance?
  • Esteem – How do you feel when you receive compliments?
  • Perspective – What are your thoughts about the situation, issue, or problem?
  • Change – What would you like to change, and how can I help?
  • Meaning – What gives your life meaning?

Awareness of strengths and past behaviors can help the client arrive at positive solutions and hope.

 

2 Assessments for Your Sessions

Interventions in social work are often described as having four stages: engagement, assessment, intervention, and evaluation (Suppes & Wells, 2017).

The assessment stage typically involves:

  • Collecting, organizing, and interpreting data
  • Assessing a client’s strengths and limitations
  • Developing and agreeing on goals and objectives for interventions
  • Selecting strategies appropriate to the intervention

Assessment is an ongoing process that typically focuses on risk. It begins with the referral and only ends when the intervention is complete or the case closed.

Assessment will need to be specific to the situation and the individuals involved, but it is likely to consider the following kinds of risks (Rogers et al., 2020; Bath and North East Somerset Council, 2017):

 

General risk assessment

Risk management does not remove risk, but rather reduces the likelihood or impact of problematic behavior. Risk assessments are performed to identify factors that may cause risky behavior or events (Davies, 2013).

Questions include:

  • What has been happening?
  • What is happening right now?
  • What could happen?
  • How likely is it that it will happen?
  • How serious could it be?

The wording and detail of each will depend on the situation, client, and environment, guided by the social worker’s training and experience.

 

Assessment of risk to children

A child’s safety is of the utmost importance. As part of the assessment process, a complete understanding of actual or potential harm is vital, including (modified from Bath and North East Somerset Council, 2017):

  • Has the child been harmed? Are they likely to be harmed?
  • Is the child at immediate risk of harm and is their safety threatened?
  • If harmed previously, to what extent or degree? Is there likely to be harm in the future?
  • Has there been a detrimental impact on the child’s wellbeing? Is there likely to be in the future?
  • Is there a parent or guardian able and motivated to protect the child from harm?

Social workers must use professional judgment to assess the level of risk and assure the child’s ongoing safety.

 

Social Work & Domestic Violence: 7 Helpful Resources

Social Work & Domestic ViolenceAccording to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW, n.d.), “social workers are at the forefront in preventing domestic violence and treating domestic violence survivors.”

The figures related to domestic violence are shocking. There are 1.3 million women and 835,000 men in the United States alone who are physically assaulted by a close partner each year (NASW, n.d.).

The NASW offers valuable resources to help social workers recognize the signs of existing domestic violence, prevent future violence, and help victims, including:

SocialWorkersToolBox.com is another website with a vast range of free social work tools and resources. This UK-based website has a range of videos and educational toolkits, including:

Many of the worksheets are helpful for sharing with parents, carers, and organizations.

 

Our 3 Favorite Podcasts on the Topic

Here are three insightful podcasts that discuss many of the issues facing social workers and social policymakers:

  • NASW Social Work Talks Podcast
    The NASW podcast explores topics social workers care about and hosts experts in both theory and practice. The podcast covers broad subjects including racism, child welfare, burnout, and facing grief.

  • The Social Work Podcast
    This fascinating podcast is another great place to hear from social workers and other experts in the field. Host Allan Barsky is a lecturer and researcher in the discipline and, along with guests, discusses various issues affecting social workers and policymakers.

  • Social Work Stories
    Podcast hosts and social workers Lis Murphy, Mim Fox, and Justin Stech guide listeners through all aspects of social work and social welfare.

 

Resources From PositivePsychology.com

Social workers should be well versed in a variety of theories, tools, and skills. We have plenty of resources to support experienced social workers and those new to the profession.

One valuable point of focus for social workers involves building strengths and its role in solution-focused therapy. Why not download our free strengths exercise pack and try out the powerful exercises contained within? Here are some examples:

  • Strength Regulation
    By learning how to regulate their strengths, clients can be taught to use them more effectively.
  • You at Your Best
    Strengths finding is a powerful way for social workers to increase service users’ awareness of their strengths.

Other free helpful resources for social workers include:

  • Conflict Resolution Checklist
    Remove issues and factors causing or increasing conflict with this practical checklist.
  • Assertive Communication
    Practicing assertive communication can be equally valuable for social workers and service users.

More extensive versions of the following tools are available with a subscription to the Positive Psychology Toolkit©, but they are described briefly below:

  • Self-Contract

Commitment and self-belief can increase the likelihood of successful future behavioral change.

The idea is to commit yourself to making a positive and effective change by signing a statement of what you will do and when. For example:

I will do [goal] by [date].

  • Cognitive Restructuring

While negative thoughts may not accurately reflect reality, they can increase the risk of unwelcome and harmful behavior.

This cognitive psychology tool helps people identify distorted and unhelpful thinking and find other ways of thinking:

    • Step one – Identify automatic unhelpful thoughts that are causing distress.
    • Step two – Evaluate the accuracy of these thoughts.
    • Step three – Substitute them with fair, rational, and balanced thoughts.

Individuals can then reflect on how this more balanced and realistic style of thinking makes them feel.

  • 17 Strengths-Finding Exercises
    If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others develop their strengths, check out this collection of 17 strengths-finding tools for practitioners. Use them to help others better understand and harness their strengths in life-enhancing ways.

 

A Take-Home Message

Society and policymakers increasingly rely on social workers to help solve individual and group issues involving psychosocial functioning. But beyond helping people survive when society lets them down, social workers support them through positive change toward meaningful goals.

Social workers must be well equipped with social, goal-setting, and communication skills underpinned by positive psychology theory and developed through practice to be successful.

Reflection is crucial. Professionals must analyze their own and others’ emotions, thinking, and behavior while continuously monitoring risk, particularly when vulnerable populations are involved.

The nature of social work is to engage with populations often at the edge of society, where support is either not provided or under-represented.

This article includes tools, worksheets, and other resources that support social workers as they engage with and help their clients. Try them out and tailor them as needed to help deliver positive and lasting change and a more just society.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Strengths Exercises for free.

  • Bath and North East Somerset Council. (2017, June). Risk assessment guidance. Retrieved November 17, 2021, from https://bathnes.proceduresonline.com/chapters/p_risk_assess.html
  • Davies, M. (2013). The Blackwell companion to social work. Wiley Blackwell.
  • Gibbs, G. (1988). Learning by doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods. Oxford Further Education Unit.
  • National Association of Social Workers. (n.d.). Domestic violence media toolkit. Retrieved November 17, 2021, from https://www.socialworkers.org/News/1000-Experts/Media-Toolkits/Domestic-Violence
  • Prochaska, J. O., & DiClemente, C. C. (1986). Toward a comprehensive model of change. In W. R. Miller & N. Heather (Eds.) Treating addictive behaviors: Processes of change. Springer.
  • Rogers, M., Whitaker, D., Edmondson, D., & Peach, D. (2020). Developing skills & knowledge for social work practice. SAGE.
  • Suppes, M. A., & Wells, M. A. (2017). The social work experience: An introduction to social work and social welfare. Pearson.
  • Thomson, H. (2010, April 14). Empathetic mirror neurons found in humans at last. New Scientist. Retrieved November 16, 2021, from https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20627565-600-empathetic-mirror-neurons-found-in-humans-at-last/

Comments

What our readers think

  1. Carla

    Petra, it does not hurt to see this information again. Some social workers are new at their jobs and can always benefit from hearing this info repeated. If you want to hear from social workers only, then encourage your peers and or colleagues to write this stuff from their perspective.

    Reply
  2. Petra van Vliet

    This article is demeaning and patronsing!
    As social workers – we have done our (at least) 4 years at uni and this stuff is social work 101.
    As psychologists – I find you often think you know best and can “tell” other professionals how to do their jobs.
    So – if you want to write something to social workers – get a social worker to write it!
    Petra van Vliet – proud and loud social worker

    Reply

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