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April 7, 2022


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This course, Introducing social work: a starter kit, provides a glimpse into some of the things that social workers do and looks at why and how social work is done.

The course is designed for people who might be interested in and curious about social work practice. It will also be a useful initial resource for those who may be thinking about entering the social work profession at some point in the future.

The materials in this course reflect a small illustrative sample drawn from The Open University's much larger course, K832 Developing social work practice. K832 is the first of two courses leading to the Postgraduate Diploma in Social Work, a professional qualifying award.

In this free short course you will find four main sections:

  1. What is social work?
  2. What makes a good social worker?
  3. The impact of social divisions and diversity
  4. The influence of knowledge about human development

The course is very much introductory in nature and is designed for learners with a wide variety of previous experiences of study. However, on occasions, the study materials reflect closely the style and academic level of the original materials, which are postgraduate level.

At the end of the course, you will notice that there is a section called 'Where next?'. This is where you will find some information and online links to further study. It includes ideas about professional qualifying social work courses for those who may be considering taking their initial curiosity further, possibly into a social work career.

Course learning outcomes

After studying this course, you should be able to:

  • Appreciate in greater depth what professional social work is, and what it is not, and learn that on occasions you are able to 'think like a social worker'
  • Identify some of the principal components of the communication skills applicable to social work and to understand that social work is based on a series of clear values and ethical principles to which professional social workers subscribe
  • Understand why social workers hold as central, the direct involvement of service users in decision making regarding their lives
  • Appreciate the impact of oppression and social exclusion in the lives of individuals and communities, and why it is important for social workers to take these factors into account in their work
  • Understand some of the ways in which the patterns in human development offer important clues for understanding the nature of people's motivations, choices and behaviours.

Course Curriculum

    • Introduction 00:10:00
    • Defining social work 00:10:00
    • The problem of defining social work 00:20:00
    • Social work values and ethics 00:15:00
    • Discrimination and anti-oppressive practice 00:20:00
    • What do social workers ‘do’? 00:05:00
    • Social work roles 00:10:00
    • Summary of Session 1 00:10:00
    • Acknowledgements 00:10:00
    • Introduction 00:10:00
    • What would you prefer? 00:05:00
    • Communication skills 00:20:00
    • Creating rapport 00:15:00
    • Empathy 00:15:00
    • The social work relationship 00:20:00
    • Service user involvement 00:20:00
    • Resistance to social work involvement 00:15:00
    • Communicating with children 00:15:00
    • Language and power 00:20:00
    • Working with interpreters 00:15:00
    • Social work communication with a family group 00:15:00
    • Summary of Session 2 00:15:00
    • Acknowledgements 00:15:00
    • Introduction 00:15:00
    • Poverty 00:10:00
    • What is poverty? 00:15:00
    • Explanations for poverty 00:10:00
    • The extent and forms of social disadvantage in society 00:10:00
    • The gap between rich and poor 00:10:00
    • The impact of poverty on people’s lives 00:15:00
    • Social exclusion 00:10:00
    • Approaches for social work practice 00:15:00
    • The impact of social attitudes on exclusion: disability 00:15:00
    • Social exclusion: systemic and ecological perspectives 00:15:00
    • Social exclusion: the impact of social support 00:10:00
    • Social exclusion: the nature of network support 00:15:00
    • Social work with communities 00:10:00
    • Community development and the role of social work 00:10:00
    • The policy context 00:10:00
    • Asset-based approaches to community development 00:10:00
    • Community profiling 00:10:00
    • Social work and groups 00:25:00
    • Group processes 00:10:00
    • Planning is important 00:10:00
    • Group leaders need group ‘skills’ 00:15:00
    • Some group behaviours can be problematic 00:15:00
    • Examples of groups 00:15:00
    • Social work and the law 00:20:00
    • Summary of Session 3 00:15:00
    • Acknowledgements 00:15:00
    • Introduction 00:15:00
    • Developmental frameworks 00:10:00
    • Perspectives on human growth and development 00:15:00
    • Nature versus nurture 00:20:00
    • Development and children 00:10:00
    • Developmental needs of children 00:20:00
    • Observing children’s development 00:20:00
    • Attachment theory 00:20:00
    • Development over a lifetime 00:10:00
    • Life span theory 00:15:00
    • The life course perspective 00:15:00
    • Stage theories and the life course 00:15:00
    • Risk, safety and young people 00:20:00
    • Adult growth and development 00:10:00
    • Adjusting to change 00:20:00
    • Development in a social context 00:10:00
    • Social ecology 00:15:00
    • The social ecological perspective: advantages and limitations 00:20:00
    • Summary of Session 4 00:15:00
    • Thinking like a social worker 00:15:00
    • End-of-course summary 00:15:00
    • Where next? 00:10:00
    • Acknowledgements 00:20:00

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