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Introducing social work (book review)

Posted: October 19 2020

Social Work student & staff projects, Social Work
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: Introducing Social Work
  • Author: Jonathan Parker
  • Publisher: Learning Matters
  • ISBN: 978-1-5264-6336-4
  • Originally published in: Social Work Education International Journal, 2020
  • Reviewer: Natalia Phillips, MA social work student, Brunel University London
Introducing Social Work book cover


‘Introducing Social Work’ is a book edited by Jonathan Parker, a professor of Society and Social Welfare at Bournemouth University, who is a leading figure in social work research and practice. This book brought together over 30 academics and experts in the field and its aim is to provide an introduction and overview of contemporary social work.

Social work is ‘a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people’ (IFSW, 2014). This book is not only a compendium of knowledge about the history, theories and practice of social work in context but it also provides the reader with many opportunities to reflect on what it means to be a social worker. It illustrates and helps understand the complexity of the profession, its advantages as well as its challenges. Its audience, social work students, have an opportunity to familiarise themselves with the core concepts of social work, starting with the Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF) which demonstrates the key values, knowledge and skills needed in the social work profession.

The structure of the book is clearly laid out into three parts that are easy to follow. Part one provides key information on social work theory and methods. It offers an overview of the history of social work, the contexts in which the profession has developed and the extensive legislation which is the undeniable foundation of current professional practice. Furthermore, it focuses on human growth, development and relationships which are essential considerations in social work.

The second part of the book has social work skills at its heart. It discusses writing skills for social workers, the essential role of effective communication and critical thinking, and the ubiquitous concept of reflective practice and research as the fundaments of social work education. Part three is divided into chapters that concentrate on social work skills required to work with certain service users in specific situations. This section consists of the areas of safeguarding children, social work and youth justice, mental health and disability, and the social work with refugees and older people, amongst others.

All three sections of the book are interdependent and build an informative framework of the complex world of contemporary social work. Undeniably, this book is an effective introduction to social work, with a clear three-part structure and interactive chapters within it. All chapters contain interesting activities, case studies, reflections on the research and suggested further reading lists which allow the reader to deepen their understanding of individual topics. However, its biggest asset lies in the collaboration of so many professionals whose extensive knowledge, experience and interesting perspectives make this book an excellent starting point in the social work education. In their respective chapters, the authors acknowledge the volatility of the profession and challenges social workers face on an everyday basis in both national and international settings. They highlight the worldwide socio-political changes, which have increased social injustice, inequality alongside the violation of basic human rights and the impact of these on social work globally. Furthermore, the international perspectives are reflected in a number of case studies and research examples from the United States and Australia, and they provide a fascinating insight into different working environments, enabling the reader to make comparisons with and critically reflect on social work world in all the countries of United Kingdom.

Even though the book is well structured and provides the audience with relevant knowledge, significant for both social work education and the professional life, it has some limitations. The quality of individual chapters is inconsistent. Whilst some chapters provide clear explanations of key terms and concepts, in others, it is not the case, which limits the book’s accessibility to students with less background knowledge. In addition, in some chapters, there is a slight imbalance between the description and analysis of theories and the examples of practice. Lengthy explanations of theories, legal acts and the use of unexplained professional language may, at times, leave the reader overwhelmed and confused. A potential change of approach to the introduction of new terms in a consistently simple manner could be beneficial to the reader, for example, a glossary could be a helpful addition as it would facilitate a quick access to terminology without having to scan the book. Only three of the book’s 29 chapters were written by authors not currently based in the UK and even those three were either trained or worked previously in the UK. This gives a perspective on social work which is more country specific. This could have been better clarified in the introduction and in setting the context. As an example of these limitations, which is also a result of this being an introductory book, we note that issues such as spiritualism in social work or the body-mind connection are not really discussed. These hold a more central place in other countries. But, despite these limitations, ‘Introducing Social Work’ remains a valuable resource for those who are about to start their journey in the field of social work and fulfills its objective to be a comprehensive introduction for UK based aspiring social workers.