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Assessment, risk and decision making in social work (book review)

Posted: October 13 2021

Social Work student & staff projects, Social Work

Interested in Social Work and want to learn more about the subject? The book reviews written by our Social Work students and staff help you identify the best literature to advance your learning.

This week:

  • Title: Assessment, risk and decision making in social work
  • Authors: Campbell Killick and Brian J. Taylor
  • ISBN 9781529702231
  • Publication: Sage Publications, Learning Matters
  • Reviewed by: Osei Domfeh, MA Social Work student
  • Originally published first online in the Journal of Social Work, DOI:  10.1177/14680173211048069

This book is co-written by Campbell Killick, a lecturer in social work at the University of Ulster, teaching both undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Campbell did his PhD in professional decision making in relation to the abuse of older people, and his research interest centres on adult safeguarding. The second author, Brian J. Taylor, is a professor of Social Work at Ulster University, N. Ireland. Brian is the leader of a research team focusing on Decision, Assessment, Risk and Evidence Studies in Social Work. Both authors have extensive knowledge and experience in assessment and decision-making regarding service users.

The book has been written as a guide to social workers to help them in carrying out a well-rounded assessment to inform reasonable decision-making. It has ten chapters which have been grouped into two parts, five chapters in each. Throughout the chapters, the authors discuss how assessment should be done in social work practice, and the risks involved in assessments and decision making. The central idea of the book is the importance of relationships in conducting social work assessments no matter what service user group you work with. The book’s definition of assessment states that ‘assessment is a purposeful, systematic, collaborative process of information gathering which supports analysis, recommendations and shared decision making’ (p. 4). The authors explain that collaboration on the part of service users and their families is critical in collecting the right information to help in making the right assessment that will inform the appropriate decisions, so that the risks of making the wrong decisions are minimised. Furthermore, the book strives to equip social workers with a framework to help them know their part in assessment and decision making. It brings out some of the issues and complications ingrained in this part of the job and urges social workers to work in a person-centred way that enhances relationship building and empowers those involved. To put the framework into perspectives, each chapter of the book is mapped to aspects of the Professional Capability Framework (PCF) which guides social workers in the delivery of their job and provides a benchmark for measuring their work. At the beginning of each chapter the reader is given a list of the PCFs domains that are covered within the chapter, with each chapter addressing at least two or more PCF’s domains.
Also, the authors argue that social work practitioners need to know how to use statistical data to inform decision making in relation to the chances of harm occurring in the future in matters of safeguarding of service users. They further explain that research is grouped into either qualitative or quantitative methods. Quantitative methods are concerned with measurement and seek objectivity whilst qualitative methods are concerned with meaning and take into consideration the subjectivity of cases. The authors admit that statistical tools on their own are not adequate in assessment of risk and decision making. They need to be supported by a comprehensive knowledge of the service user and a collaboration on the part of other organisations and professionals involved in working with the service user. However, they suggest that statistics are the best available instrument for helping us in estimating the probabilities of harm occurring in the future. It is commendable that relationship building and person-centred approaches to assessment are woven throughout the entire book. Also, it is admirable to realise that each chapter is structured and linked to the PCFs of social work which arms the social worker with potent tools to make effective assessment and decision making.
However, whilst every chapter is mapped to throwing more light on the Professional Capability Frameworks, it is observed that there was no linkage to PCFs domains 1 and 9. It would have been helpful if there were chapters that were dedicated to explaining how relationship building in assessment correlated with these two domains. Finally, the book does not give an example of using statistical research to illustrate how data can be interpreted and used. This would have helped the reader to better appreciate applying statistical tools to predicting risk and informing decision making in matters of safeguarding service users