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Intervention: Person-Centred Social Work Practice

InterventionPerson-centred social work practice: working with people in need and supporting their right to autonomy and self-management of their lives and/or care.

A key role of social workers is to help individuals and families to:
  • maintain independence and keep safe and well;
  • deal with personal or social problems;
  • cope in crisis situations;
  • recover from traumatic life events or distressing experiences.  

Social workers will normally be in the lead role for individuals referred to social care services where there is one or more of the following:
  • a need for a comprehensive assessment of an individual’s circumstances;
  • identified risks to social wellbeing or personal safety;
  • level of vulnerability, including capacity;
  • actual or potential interference with people’s rights (including right to liberty, private or family life);
  • complexity of circumstances;
  • risk of breakdown/deterioration in personal or social circumstances;
  • need for a co-ordinated multi-disciplinary or inter-agency response;
  • need for understanding of legislative requirements, including Human Rights;
  • discharge of relevant statutory functions.
Social workers help people to find solutions that work for them and their unique circumstances and to have as much control over plans and decisions as possible. A person-centred approach to practice is key to achieving this.
Person-centred practice involves finding out what people want, the support they need and how they can get it. It requires social workers to be flexible in their approach and to use a range of skills, techniques and interventions that best suit individuals and their circumstances. Interventions can range from advice or information giving, problem solving, providing emotional support, advocacy, mediation, counselling, family support, family therapy, and group work to more specific social work interventions and therapeutic approaches to practice. Social workers also play an important role in signposting people to other specialist services that can best meet their needs.
Central to the effectiveness of any social work intervention is the quality of the relationship between the social worker and the person(s) they are working with and this is supported by service-users’ views22.

People are positive about social workers who:
  • develop a meaningful relationship with them based on empathy;
  • can be trusted and treat them with respect and honesty;
  • put them at the centre;
  • focus on their abilities and strengths ;
  • support them to make informed choices and decisions;
  • help them get the services and benefits they are entitled to; and
  • are dependable and don’t give up on them where others have.
Social workers also help to promote the independence, safety and wellbeing of those who need ongoing support with daily living due to their age, infirmity, illness, disability or life circumstances.

In 2010/11 in Northern Ireland, contact with HSC Trusts was made by:
  • 15,683 persons designated mentally ill;
  • 9,173 learning disabled persons; and
  • 9,251 persons with physical disability or sensory impairment.
Most people want to stay in their own homes even when they have complex care needs. Social workers work with individuals, their family and friends and other professionals to assess, plan and co-ordinate appropriate levels of care and support which are based on people’s decisions about how their needs can best be met. Sometimes this will involve helping people to make their own care arrangements, for example through the use of Direct Payments. It can also involve supporting family or friends who have taken on the main caring role for an individual.
Working with adults involves a positive but measured approach to risk assessment and management whereby a person’s right to make decisions about how they live their life has to be balanced against their capacity to consent and the protection of the rights of others. This can require social workers to support individuals to live in situations where there are risks to their safety or wellbeing. In these circumstances social workers will work with others to find ways to help reduce and manage the risks.
When someone can no longer be cared for safely at home, social workers help individuals and their families make positive choices about their future care arrangements.
12,356 care packages were in place in Adult Services in 2010/11
Wherever care is provided - in a person's home or in a day care or residential setting  - social workers, along with others, play an important role in monitoring the standard of care through routine visits and regular reviews which should involve feedback from the service-user and his/her family or friends.
Trusts have a statutory duty to register and inspect child-minding and day care services to ensure they provide good, safe, quality childcare. Social workers make an important contribution in ensuring minimum standards of care, including arrangements for child protection, are in place and complied within these settings.
34,447 referrals were made to Children’s Services in 2010/11.
Social workers also work with people who have experienced traumatic events such as abuse, death of a loved one, acquired disability or diagnosis of a life-limiting illness. They also co-operate with other essential services in emergency situations where there is major disruption in people's lives because of natural disaster, violence or intimidation.
22 People Work not just paperwork, NISCC, 2008