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The interview is the most important function in the social worker's role

The majority of social work is based around the interview. Hence, the social worker is trained in specific interview techniques, so as to elicit relevant and pertinent information, from which they will base a decision.

As the Home Study is a series of interviews held with you, your partner and members of your family, it is important for you to understand exactly what is is going on in the interview and how to distinguish it from a normal conversational exchange. 


A social worker interview:


  • Is deliberately defined, task orientated  with a planned purpose or objective;
  • Has a clearly defined role differentiation between the interviewer and the interviewee;
  • Has a specifically selected time, place, duration and frequency;
  • Is where rules of professional interaction may supersede social etiquette, in respect of form and acceptable content;
  • Is where speech patterns tend to be formal, structured and organised;
  • Has communication which is unidirectional, from interviewer to interviewee, with focus on the interviewee;
  • Is where the interviewer has a professional obligation to initiate contact and to continue contact, until the purpose has been achieved;
  • Has an unequal allocation of authority and power which is in favour of the interviewer;
  • Is where participants are often culturally different;
  • Is where the interviewer has subsequent accountability to interviewee.

The social worker interview is concerned with social work content, to achieve social work purposes. They are usually longer and more discursive then other types of interviews, such as the job interview, and although they follow a particular form, they are each individual as they are concerned with an unique entity - the case study - a unique individual, in a unique group, in a unique community.   To this end, social workers try to maximize client participation in the interview, encouraging involvement and allowing the interview to develop in an organic way, following the client's preferance. 

In an assessment interview, such as in the homestudy,  the social worker will need to cover uniform content, but will attempt to do this in an individual setting. For example, they will need to cover ground such as your motivation to adopt, your reaction to infertility, your preference for a child, past interaction with children, etc. but as these topics are private and very emotional, the social worker interview will be characterized by strong personal interaction, with a concern and emphasis on thoughts and feelings.

As the interview deals with a wide range of a person's life, they are usually diffuse and the agencies tend to state their aims rather broadly. As a result, "The tendency is for the workers to feel that they need to know much about the client that in a strict sense might be regarded as extraneous to the agency's functions. The more the worker explores the client's world, the greater the likelihood of affective interaction and of emotional involvement."

The general purpose of the interview is informational (to make a social study), assessment (to arrive at an understanding), and therapeutic (to affect chiange). In assessment the information gathered enables the social worker to understand the client in the context of the social problem. Knowledge of a problem is a prerequisite for and understanding of the client and their situation. And understanding is a pre-requisite to bring about change.

These three all work in conjunction. In order to assess, the information gathered in the interview enables the social worker to understand the client in the context of the social problem.

Knowledge of a problem is a prerequisite for an understanding of the client and their situation. And understanding is a pre-requisite to bring about change. Often the consideration of the questions asked by the interveiwer to obtain information, forces the client to explicitly review these areas on an emotional level, and thus reveals to the social worker the information they are seeking. As the social work interview is client led, the social workers  have to respond to situations as they arise. Social workers have to have considerable discretion 'to do almost anything' they think might be advisable under extremely individualized circumstances, to achieve the purpose of the interview.

The do not seek to know everything about the client but enough to know how they can help effectively.  Information gathered is both facts and attitudes and feelings.

Assessment Interviews

In adoption, the social worker is assessing, to ascertain if the adoption agency will let a child be placed with the interviewee.

Although highly individualized, the interviews are conducted so that the worker can assess particular characteristics of the interviewee deemed essential for eligibility or to justify a decision. Before the interview begins an outline of what must be covered is defined and the interview will ascertain if the applicants meet the criteria and requirements before the decison is made.

The purpose of the appraisal interview is to obtain selective information for making a decision. The decision involves an assessment process in the mind of the worker, a process of applying theoretical generalisations to the data obtained, and organising the data for valid references.

The assessment process leads to an evaluation - a decision on what the agency will do.

Studies of social work decision-making suggest that social workers do look for definite, but limited information in assessment interviews, and that they frequently base their decisions on such information.

Throughout the assement process the social worker will extend the range and the depth of the interview through reflection, paraphrasing, making transitions, raising questions and probing, all in an attempt to clarify, confront and interpert the information to make the decision that bought the two entities together in the first place - whether the adoption agency will place a child with the interviewee.


 I suggest having a good read of this book for an insight into the techniques of social workers in the interview process. It might make for greater understanding of the way that they operate.

 Kadushin,A and Kadushin, G : The Social Work Interview: A Guide for Human Service Professionals

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