The title of this book offers attractive potential for social work students, practitioners and educators. Phil Musson aims to address the perennial challenge of enabling social work students and practitioners to develop a stronger understanding of how different theories can be applied in social work practice, and a broader understanding of the implications of different theories and approaches in determining methods of intervention. A case study of a young woman and her two young children promises to illustrate the distinctive contributions of psycho-dynamic, behaviourist, systems and radical/structural theories and strengths-based, existential, humanistic and problem-solving approaches to intervention. And it does indeed do this. However, the text also claims to offer the reader opportunities to engage critical thinking skills in respect of the theories and approaches discussed. But, despite the inclusion of ‘radical/structural’ theory as one of the four theories examined, I became increasingly frustrated by the largely uncritical approach to contemporary social work practice which, by default, is conveyed as something that only happens in local authorities. Although the scene is set with the international definition of social work, it becomes immediately apparent that the book is constructed around the English context with highly specific cultural illustrations. The Professional Capabilities Framework that guides requirements for social work training in England is cited to explain the central importance of understanding and applying social science theory in practice. But there is no corresponding reference to other requirements of the Professional Capabilities Framework, for example, that social workers must demonstrate their abilities to understand, identify and apply principles of social justice, inclusion and equality, or their abilities to recognise personal and organisational discrimination and oppression and use a range of approaches to challenge them. This results in the largely uncritical acceptance of neo-liberal politics that have left social work in English local authorities representing a technical bureaucratic function rather than the wider concerns of professional social work: social change, development, social cohesion, empowerment and liberation of people (IFSW, 2014). The author’s proposals to call on volunteers from ‘Home-Start or woman’s aid’ (p. 78) to support parents while social workers concentrate on the welfare of children ignore the impact of austerity that has had such a pernicious impact on the broader landscape of social welfare services. While reflection on personal experience of practice can be compelling, this book relies too heavily on the personal at the expense of developing clear argument supported by evidence from peer-reviewed literature supplemented by critical reflection of past experience. In this sense, it does not set a good example of what is expected of social workers as research-minded critical thinkers capable of producing evidence-based argument. Neither does the book set the best example in terms of clear and accurate writing—a skill that is essential if social workers are to be effective advocates. The text suffers from insufficient proofreading and editing to address significant errors in sentence construction, as well as more than occasional awkward and arguably oppressive phraseology (e.g. your/their/our service users). Despite the author’s valiant attempt to help social work practitioners to develop a clearer understanding of the application of theory in practice, in the end, I was left feeling that I could not honestly recommend this book to social work educators, practitioners or students who accept the global definition of social work cited at the beginning of the text. Reference International Federation of Social Work (IFSW) ( 2014 ). ‘Global definition of social work’, available online at: http://ifsw.org/get-involved/global-definition-of-social-work/ (accessed 23 October August 2017). © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved.
The British Journal of Social Work – Oxford University Press
Published: Nov 13, 2017
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