Principles of Case Planning
in Social Work Practice

}ane F. uilgun, Ph.B., LICSW

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ase planning in social woik is tailoieu to inuiviuual client systems while also
builuing on othei funuamental social woik piinciples anu values such as
stiengths-baseu piactice, staiting wheie clients aie, collaboiation with othei
seivice pioviueis, social justice, caie, uignity, woith, anu self-ueteimination. In
auuition, we sometimes have ioles ielateu to social contiol wheie we have to set
limits on behaviois of otheis. An example of oui social contiol function is the legal
iequiiement that we iepoit abuse anu neglect anu the thieat of imminent haim to

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In oiuei to uo competent case planning, social woikeis have to have uone a
compiehensive assessment of the focal client(s) in ecological anu uevelopmental
peispectives. Peisons anu settings that aie typical in seivice usei ecologies incluue
families, peei gioups, school settings, woik settings, neighboihoous, availability anu
quality of iesouices, anu the effects of social policies.

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Peisons' uevelopmental histoiies incluue accounts ovei time that encompass
positive expeiiences, times of stiess, iesouices available, anu how peisons useu
iesouices to ueal with stiesses. Piimaiy among iesouices aie paients, othei family
membeis, othei auults anu peeis, anu community assets such as availability of
iecieation, fiienuly setting such as playgiounus anu woous, anu libiaiies. 0ften
infoimation in meuical, school, anu social seivice iecoius aie impoitant in
compiehensive assessments. In woik with chiluien anu families, foi example,
piegnancy anu biith iecoius aie impoitant as aie social histoiies. In woik with
people with mental illnesses, social histoiies anu histoiies of mental health caie aie
impoitant to have.

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The assessment also incluues applications of ieseaich anu theoiy, such as iueas
about typical issues foi peisons who aie at vaiious points in the life couise. 0thei
impoitant aieas of ieseaich anu theoiy incluue iesilience, the NEATS (neuiobiology,
executive function, attachment, tiauma, anu self-iegulation), anu ieflective piactice
wheie social woikeis think about how theii peisonal anu piofessional expeiiences
anu values may be at play. They must seek ways of iuentifying theii own biases anu
blinu spots as well as appieciation foi the iichness of theii expeiiences anu values.
With on-line iesouices so available, social woikeis have ieauy access to a wealth of
infoimation that contiibute to theii competence.

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Case planning is a collaboiative effoit. Social woikeis anu clients constiuct the case
plan. Social woikeis aie well piepaieu to collaboiate with clients when they know
what is involveu in case planning. Foi this assignment, stuuents in an NSW piogiam
constiuct the case stuuy with no client involvement. This is an aitificial situation. In
ieal-life situations, case plans aie co-constiucteu. When they aie not, the seivice
plan may not be effective because seivice useis may expeiience coeicion iathei
than iespect foi theii autonomy, uignity, anu woith.

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Case planning gets moie complicateu when seivice useis aie involuntaiy clients. In
these cases, seivice pioviueis may constiuct an iueal case plan anu then woik with
clients to see how they can engage clients in case planning. 0ften, figuiing out what
matteis to clients, anu showing empathy foi what matteis aie key to builuing
collaboiations. Then, it may be helpful to exploie how clients can get what they
want anu what stanus in the way of what they want. In this way, social woikeis can
move towaiu the uevelopment of co-constiucteu case plans.

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A fiist question to ask in case planning is what actions aie to be taken to piomote
clients' self inteiests anu the well-being of all conceineu. To answei this question,
social woikeis must have in-uepth knowleuge about clients' cuiient situations,
what they woulu be ieceptive to uo, anu what iesouices aie available to them. The
following aie suggestions anu guiuelines foi case planning.


Case planning is uone on inuiviuual cases. So, the fiist step is to unueistanu the
issues fiom seivice useis' points of view. This means we listen with open minus anu
with empathy. We ask questions to claiify anu to seek fuithei infoimation. We have
a gentle cuiiosity about the events in theii lives anu how they think about these
events, what these events mean, anu how they cope with uifficulties.

We think about the iisks anu uifficulties that clients expeiience anu the iesouices
that might alleviate theii uistiess. Foi example, a tiansgenuei youth who is
homeless iequiies a wiue iange of seivices. Fiist, seek to unueistanu the meanings
the youth attiibutes to hei oi his life ciicumstance. Think thiough the kinus of
iesouices that you woulu like to offei. Examples foi this client aie safe housing,
suppoit of auults, fiienuship, school, iecieation, anu othei activities that aie of
inteiest to the young peisons.


You woulu also exploie with the young peison what kinus of specific suppoits the
young peison might want in teims of attaining a sense of community anu
acceptance ielateu to iuentity issues. Being expelleu fiom families because of
iuentity issues is tiaumatic, anu so theie woulu have to be exploiation of issues anu
planning foi iesponsiveness in teims of uealing with whatevei tiauma anu othei
huits young people might have. In all of this, it's impoitant to unueistanu how
young people alieauy cope with this multituue of issues. What they want is piimaiy.

Foi situations wheie a spouse caies foi a paitnei with Alzheimei's, theie aie many
possible issues that iequiie attention. You will know what these issues aie once you
have uone a compiehensive assessment. The following aie examples of iesponse to
issues the assessment may iuentity. This list assumes that you have caiefully
listeneu to what inuiviuuals have to say about theii situations. You may also have
obseivations on which to base youi unueistanuings.

• Respite;
• Neuication;
• Bay caie;
• Insuiance anu health caie
• Tianspoitation;
• Income;
• Social activities foi caie pioviueis;
• Nental health of caie pioviueis;
• Issues ielateu to spiiituality anu ieligion;
• Ambiguous loss foi caie pioviueis anu patient; anu
• Long-teim planning.


0veiall, case plans builu upon a compiehensive assessment. They aie composeu of
actions that social seivice pioviueis anu clients aie to take in oiuei to auuiess
piessing issues in seivice usei systems. The meeting of basic human neeus is
funuamental. A vaiiety of auuitional challenging situations may iequiie caiefully
planneu iesponses in oiuei to piomote the well-being of peisons whom social
woikeis seive. In all of this, basic values of justice, caie, iespect, uignity, woith, anu
self-ueteimination¡autonomy aie paiamount within a fiamewoik of safety fiist.
As social woikeis, we base oui actions upon unueistanuing seivice useis fiom
seivice useis own points of view. This takes open-minueuness anu a genuine sense
that we know nothing about inuiviuual seivice useis until we heai anu unueistanu
what matteis to them. To be the open-minueu means that we have uone a gieat
ueal of ieflective piactice anu theiefoie we know ouiselves÷what we have to offei
anu wheie oui own biases anu hot spots might be. We have people we can talk to
help ensuie that we aie not imposing oui own iueas on seivice useis iiiespective of
what seivice useis want. Sometimes we have to set limits anu say not, but that is
when oui value systems anu the law gives us this authoiity.

The ioot meaning of the woiu "assessment" is "to sit besiue." That means we
paitnei with seivice useis anu woik with them to unueistanu theii situations anu
collaboiate with them to seek solutions to issues that unueimine theii quality of life.

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