Tools in Social Casework

Last Updated on July 17, 2024 by Muzammil Ijaz

Tools in social casework is anything that serves as a means of operation in the practice of a trade, occupation or a profession. The tools of an occupation like carpentry, being concrete, tangible and determinate lend themselves to sensory perception. Casework tools, on the other hand, are abstract concepts, and not concrete instruments or things that can be handled by one’s limbs. The tools used in casework are: listening, observation, interview, relationship and home visit. The word “tool”, which immediately produces the mental image of concrete things, cannot be easily explained when it is used as an intangible, non-material entity.

Two common meanings of the word “tool” may be adapted to explain the term “case work tools”.


  1.  A means of contact with something or a means of access to something. Casework tools are means of contact with clients. They are also means of access to information about the client, his family and his problem. This meaning is applicable to all the five casework tools. Observation and listening may be considered as tools within tools as they are components of interview, relationship and home visit.
  2. A means for transmitting energy or force towards something. Here the word “tool” refers to a channel, medium or venue for the transmission of energy or force. This meaning is applicable only to three of the casework tools, interview, relationship and home visit, which serve as channels for the transmission of information, knowledge and help. They are the channels through which casework techniques become operative. Casework techniques are systematic procedures of helping.


The utility of casework tools is along three dimensions:

  1.  Getting information directly about clients
  2.  Getting information indirectly about clients
  3.  Giving help to clients. Direct information is from


What the client says and getting direct information is a characteristic of all the five tools. It will be seen that indirect information is obtained through client’s non-verbal communication and sometimes from what the client omits to say. Getting indirect information, as a dimension, applies mostly to observation and in some contexts to listening. The third dimension — giving help to clients — applies only to interview, relationship and home visit. As implied earlier, these three tools function as conveyors for the transmission of help.


  1. Listening

Listening is a basic casework tool. Active, attentive listening is purposeful. The purpose is to understand the speaker’s words and feelings as accurately as possible, for which mental concentration is necessary. The listener has to pay attention to what is said, what is not said, and what is suggested. Listening, therefore, becomes a consciously performed activity for the social worker. It is also an aspect for the practice of the principle of acceptance.


There are two types of listening, one is active listening and second is passive listening.

  1.  Active listening means the listening that took place face to face between client and social worker.
  2. Passive listening means the information that is collected from the secondary source like recording, data etc.

There are some common obstacles to active listening, knowledge of which is necessary for one who wants to train himself/herself as an effective listener.


Obstacles and solutions to Listening


  1. The distraction of various kinds takes a listener off the path of active listening.
  2.   The listener’s anxiety or fear concerning the speaker can become a block to good listening.
  3. Selective listening which refers to the mental tendency of hearing only what one likes to hear prevents effective listening.

There are a few guidelines which will help the social worker to develop the habit of effective listening.


  1. It is important to maintain eye contact with the client during conversations.
  2. The social worker must ensure, though it may not always be possible, that the place where the interviews with the clients take place, is quiet, with minimum external distractions.
  3. As a preparation for interviews with the client, the worker should clear his/her mind of internal pre- occupations and preconceived ideas or opinions of the client.
  4. The ears should be trained to listen to everything that the client says.
  5. What the client says or what (s)he appears to be, cannot but evoke thinking in the mind of the social worker.


  • Observation

Observation is the practice of noticing features about people, things or situations, and in the context of casework, the purpose is to use the observed data for understanding the client and his situation. Specially, in the cases like robbery, prostitution, anti-social activities this method is used. By this information related to the cases like relationship, behavior between teacher and student, gender discrimination in family and society, behavior or workers in organization etc. can be obtained. Every parent can use this method to bring change in behavior and attitude of their children. Similarly, this method can help a lot to bring the real data of the client. The caseworker has to take cognizance of the following with reference to the client:


  •   The general outward appearance.
  •  Facial expression, posture, gestures, etc.
  •   The characteristics, particularly the emotional nuances of interactions that take place between clients and others, including their family members.

The social worker should not have any difficulty in paying attention to the client’s personal appearance — his/her clothes, level of cleanliness, and such like. The human face occasionally reflects the feelings within and to the social worker facial expression is a matter for observation. Feelings like sadness, anger and hostility do not need verbal expression to indicate their presence; there will be tell-tale signs on the face that bespeak the unexpressed feelings. Similarly, the individual’s postures, gestures, tone of voice and body movements are also meaningful. Many of our clients do not feel comfortable on their first day of


visit to a social work agency. They may be ignorant about what a social worker does and what they can expect from the agency. The pressure of their problems and their having to talk to a stranger about it add to their discomfiture. The confusion and tension that the client experiences within is likely to make him fidgety and restless. The way (s)he sits, and the manner in which (s)he participates in the conversation with the social worker should be observed carefully for indications of his/her emotional state of mind whether (s)he is tense or relaxed, trusting or suspicious, receptive or inattentive. Knowing what the client feels or getting at least some clues to his/her feelings is helpful in that the social worker can prime himself/herself to respond appropriately.

For instance, a client who feels ill at ease can be helped to feel more comfortable.


Types of observation

  • Participatory observation

This method is used usually by being the part of the problem or situation. If the information or data is collected by the researcher by becoming the part of the situation is called participatory observation. The investigator actively participates as a member of the group to observe the cause of the problem or the situation. In this process the group members may or may not identify the investigator.


  • Non-Participatory observation

In this the observer or the investigator does not participate in the activities of the group to be studied but simply remain or present in the group is called non- participatory observation. The observer feels independent in this method and observes every activity.

  • Controlled / structured observation


If observation is done with pre-planned and structured questionnaire than it is called controlled or structured observation. Social case worker uses this method with structured questions, check list of the items to be observed and recording sheet. Data collected from this kind of observation helps to compare progress of the client.


  •  Uncontrolled observation

Researcher does not have any control over the research according to the purpose. Researcher observes in research area without any disturbance or interruption is called uncontrolled observation. For example, the researcher observing on the activities of the animals to study them, they capture or record it without any control over them.


  • Indirect observation

In indirect observation social case worker observes clues of post behavior or events that cannot be observe directly. In this type of observation social case worker has to depend on audio or visual document. Police investigation of criminal activities is a popular example of indirect observation.


  • Interview

The casework interview refers to the meeting of the social worker and the client in a face to-face conversation. It is not a casual conversation but a professional activity on the part of the social worker, because the conversation is geared to specific or general purposes. The purposes may be one or more of the following:

  • To obtain information from or impart information to the client
  •  For studying and assessing the client’s problem and related situation
  •  To give help.


An interview is a piece of social interaction with one person asking a number of questions and another person gives the answer. In this method the case worker collects data directly by his active participation. It is also known as participatory method of data collection.

During the process of interview, the interviewer collects different information. This is one of the most effective and reliable method of fata collection. The questions asked in interview may be open ended or close ended. And the type of questions depends up on the type of interview. The client is a perfect stranger to the agency on his/her first visits. The social worker has to gather data regarding the problem, how the client perceives it, what (s)he has done about it, some data about the client himself/herself, his/her family and his/her resources. When a client is not able to furnish the required information, members of his/her family are interviewed for the purpose.

Interviewing is a two-way process. Just as information is received by the social worker, so also information is imparted to the client regarding official procedures and other matters about himself/herself, his/her role as a social worker, and about the function of the agency. Information about the self is all the more important for those clients who come to the social worker not of their own volition but through other people’s coercion. The client is also informed about other services.

Interviewing as a professional activity requires that the social worker prepares himself/herself for the occasion. After reviewing the previous interview or interviews with the same client, the social worker should make note of the gaps in information, the ambiguities that need clarification and one’s own lapses and shortcomings that need to be replaced with skills of handling. Keeping these points of review in mind, the next interview should be planned for eliciting fresh data, clearing doubts, testing assumptions,

assessing facts and for using techniques appropriately. The interview should be good to collect the proper information regarding client and his/her problem.


Qualities of good interview

  1. Voice and language of interviewer must be clear and commanding.
  2. Interviewer    must    have    good    and    attractive personality.
  3.  (S)He must have knowledge and training regarding subject matter.
  4. Materials used in interview must be familiar.
  5. (S)He must be free from political, religion and other aspects.
  6.  (S)He must understand feelings and thoughts of interview.
  7.  Must be able to dissolve in that society and situation.
  8. Must be simple in habit, thought, language etc.
  9. Must be free from phobia.
  10. Must have enough time should be able to give time.


Types of interview

There are different types of interview on different basis.

1.    Interview on the basis of informant

Personal interview

When interview are collected from only one informant is called personal interview. Confidential information is collected by this method.

 Group interview

When information are collected from large number of people than such type of interview is known as group interview. Usually 20 to 25 people are used to gather


information. In this method the interviewer must be able to handle the situation.


 Interview on the basis of methodology

 Non-directive interview

In this method as interviewer conducts interview in an uncontrolled way. In this method questions are not prepared beforehand. Thus, this method is also known as unstructured method. Especially, for research and life history interview, this method is adopted.


Directive interview

This interview is conducted with district question. Hence, it is also known as schedule-cum-interview or controlled interview or structured interview.


Focused interview

The interviews which are highly focused regarding the issue related to national level, special subjects, incident to find out the cases and solution is called focused interview. This type of interview is conducted by mass media like radio, television, newspaper etc.


 Depth interview

This interview is conducted for finding the depth of the issue and problem up to its root. In this interview the researcher or social worker keeps on interviewing with the client to get to the depth of the root cause of the problem or the issue.


Critical interview

The use of critical analysis on to the clients thought and belief is known as critical interview. In this interview the interviewer tries to find the thoughts and belief of the client towards their problems and the cause of the issues.


 Prolonged interview

This is the longest type of interview which is intended towards the specific subject related to the client problem. This type of interview is conducted to find the solution of the related specific issue of the client.


Interview on the basis of function

Diagnostic interview

When the objective of the interview is confined to investigating an issue or problem; it is called diagnostic interview.


Treatment interview

The process of interview that involves the treatment of the problem of the client is called treatment interview.


 Research interview

An interview conducted for the purpose of data collection or hypothesis building in a research is called research interview.


 Interview on the basis of formality

Formal interview

The interview which is formal in nature and that is structured with different pre-prepared questionnaire. This interview has some formality that has to be followed and meet while interviewing with the client


Informal interview

The interview which is not formal in nature and not structured with any steps or rules is called informal interview. It does not have any rules to follow while interviewing the client.



The worker-client relationship is another casework tool that needs to be delineated. Relationship between any two people is the condition of their being connected in a significant way. We experience various kinds of relationships in our lives. First of all, there are the relationships derived from being members of one’s family and kinship groups. Parent-child, sibling-sibling, uncle- niece relationships are examples. These are permanent and unalterable, lasting as long as one lives. On the other hand, relationships between two friends, neighbors’ or classmates are temporary. The doctor-patient, teacher-student, supervisor – supervisee, lawyer-client are examples of professional relationships. One can broadly classify relationships according to quality also. A relationship between two people, characterized by hatred is a negative relationship; nevertheless, it is a relationship. Likewise, a relationship marked by affection is a positive one.

It follows from the above discussion that the social worker- client relationship is a professional relationship, and that it has to be positive in nature. Only a positive relationship can serve as a means towards the desirable end of helpfulness, the type of helpfulness that provides scope for the exercise of casework principles.

Professional relationships have some common characteristics. They are bound by time to specific purposes. When the purpose is met, the relationship comes to an end. Unlike family relationships which are diffuse and permeate many areas of human life, professional relationships pertain only to the areas surrounding specific purposes. For e.g., take the teacher-student relationship. The student’s academic life is a matter of legitimate interest and attention for the teacher, who thereby assumes responsibility regarding how the student spends his/her time in school. The teacher is not concerned what the student does after school hours. The parent-child


relationship, on the other hand, is all inclusive. There is hardly any aspect of the child’s life that is not pertinent to the parents’ view. In family relationships, mutuality is also implicit in one form or other. Parents take care of children, and when parents grow old the children, who are adults by that time, are expected to take care of the ageing parents. The dyadic pair in a professional relationship, however, is not bound by any consideration of mutuality. There, the mutuality concept is replaced by market economy, in the sense that, the professional service gets paid through some kind of monetary arrangement.

In a professional relationship, as between a doctor and patient or a social worker and client, the professional person uses two types of authority, one based on his/her knowledge and the other sanctioned by society for the practice of one’s profession. Because of his/her knowledge and skills (S)he is able to apply suitable procedures for helping the patient or client. The possession of knowledge and skills is instrumental in obtaining a certain amount of conferred authority for the practice of his/her profession.


The social case work implies two types of relationship with client. They are as below:

Professional relationship

Treatment relationship


Professional relationship

This is the relationship between social case worker and client which is started at the beginning of the problem solving process with the promise of solving the problem of the client. The case worker focuses on need of the client only to solve the problem. During agreement the places is fixed for the interaction like office, institution agency or any other organization. During problem solving the social case worker gives ideas views or solutions to the client which is professional in nature and the two person meet at


the fixed time period. The relationship is open between client and social case worker and the priority is given to the satisfaction of the client.


Treatment relationship

This is the satisfaction and problem alleviation oriented relationship which is oriented towards reducing the problems of the client by different treatment methods and process. It helps the client to gain maximum satisfaction of understanding the situation and heading towards resolution of the problem.


Home visit

Conducting the interviews in the office of the agency has certain advantages. It provides for privacy and prevents distractions. It invests a certain degree of formality and professionalism in the conversation, to the extent that the clients are encouraged to view the interviews seriously. But to some clients, the formality of the office may be threatening, provoking them to put on masks that hide their real selves and feelings. For such people, having one or two interviews at home will be a welcome relief. There are also some other considerations which make home visits an important and necessary casework tool. First of all, there is the likelihood that the client perceives the social worker’s visit to his/her home as an indication of the social worker’s interest in his/her welfare. Recognition by the client of the social worker’s interest and concern is desirable as far as the progress of the casework process is concerned. Furthermore, there are clients whose fatalistic attitude to life’s problems and the resultant resignation to problems prevents them from doing anything. Social workers have to go to them rather than wait for them at the agency. One or two home visits may not bear any fruit; more visits will be necessary. Repeated home visits by social workers are recorded in some of the Survey of Casework Records


(SOCR) cases, the social worker’s persistence paying off in the end.

Home visit is definitely advantageous in that it enables the social worker to observe the home environment of the client. Importantly, the interactions which take place among the family members lend themselves to the social worker’s observation from which the social worker is able to make useful inferences about the attitudes and relationships within the family.

There was the case of Lakshman (15 years) who was referred to the social worker for poor academic performance and aggressive behavior. Lakshman lived in a one-room tenement with his parents who asserted that they loved Lakshman very much, that they gave him everything he wanted and that they expected him to do well in school. Even the T.V. set was bought for him, they declared. During every visit, the social worker found the whole family in front of the T.V., including Lakshman, who had his school books open in front of him but his eyes on the program.

On one visit, the social worker was talking to Lakshman about his school report, suddenly and unexpectedly, the father began to beat Lakshman, scolding him loudly for his failure in the examination. The contradictions in parental handling could be easily seen by the social worker during home visits.



Recording is one of the essential tools of the social case work. The term ‘recording’ indicates the noting down of the facts or sequences of activities or events. By maintaining records social case worker can improve his professional skills and techniques. The social worker records many other things as the case progresses. His/her work diary is meant for jottings on events as they happen. The jottings cover names, addresses, dates, notes on


interviews, points of importance gleaned from conversations with people other than clients collaterals and resource persons, observations, inferences and elements of the casework process.

From the data which are in a jumble in the work diary, the social worker organizes systematically the content of the formal case record, which is a formal or official record maintained at the agency. The casework record serves some important purposes. It is humanly not possible to retain in mind all the information related to a client. Writing becomes necessary for formulating the social assessment and plans of action in each and every case. Putting down the events and related aspects in black and white helps the social worker in evaluating his/her own work. So the practice of recording regularly is the features of the case along with the helping activities facilitate the casework process. Casework records are necessary from administrative considerations as well. They provide the data necessary for reviewing periodically the work of the agency, from perspectives of quality and quantity of service. From the content of the case records the administrator is able to find out how, where, and in what, the social worker’s professional time is spent and this kind of reviewing is necessary to assess the effectiveness of the work of the agency.


Purposes of recording in casework

  •     Helps in diagnosis and treatment.
  •     Enables more effective interviewing and intervention.
  •     Useful for organizing and    structuring of information/aids orderly thinking.
  •     Refreshes the memory of the worker/increases retrospective understanding.
  •     Enables better planning for a subsequent interviews.
  •   Useful as a guide to the new workers in correcting past mistakes.
  •     Useful as an index for correction of policies.
  •     Ensure continuity if any caseworker discontinues a case.
  •     Administration useful for future reference.