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Network assessments and diagrams: a flexible friend for social work practice and education

Hill, M. (2002) Network assessments and diagrams: a flexible friend for social work practice and education. Journal of Social Work, 2 (2). pp. 233-254. ISSN 1468-0173

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Personal social networks are often crucial in understanding the generation of social problems and form the context for social work interventions. Revived attention to networks has been prompted by recent interest in ecological approaches to social work and to social capital. This paper reviews the theoretical and research underpinnings of a social network approach to social work assessment. It describes an exercise that provides students with a systematic network-based framework and gives them opportunities to apply this in placement and reflect on their learning and experiences in class.Evaluations written by students and verbal reports made by the class were collected. These indicate that many students have not only applied to their practice the ideas and suggestions provided at the university, but have made imaginative choices, experimented and seen new ways of applying network ideas and assessment techniques. The translation of learning from the class to direct work in the community is an essential component of professional education. Evidence about what is effective in promoting such a translation of learning to action is vital for educators, practice teachers and policy makers, in order to be able to enhance learning and practice both in respect of the use of social networks and also in respect of other elements of the professional curriculum.