Pamela Trevithick is the Programme Director/Field Chair for the BSc in Social Work at the University of Gloucestershire. Over the years, she has worked in Birmingham, London and Bristol in a range of different roles: residential social worker, education welfare officer and statutory field social worker with children and families. These experiences, and her current involvement in practice as a groupworker, inform her writing. She is the co-editor of the journal Groupwork, a member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Social Work Practice and Communities, Children and Families Australia and the author of Social Work Skills: A Practice Handbook (Open University Press).
The starting point for this paper is the view that social work practice is a highly skilled activity and one that calls for an extensive knowledge base and considerable intellectual abilities. However, considerable confusion remains about what constitutes the knowledge base of social work and how this can be applied to the dilemmas regularly encountered in direct work. This article begins with an account of key writing on the subject of knowledge and, drawing on these works, it describes a framework that includes three interweaving features: (i) theoretical knowledge (or theory); (ii) factual knowledge (including research); and (iii) practice/practical/personal knowledge. A particular feature of this paper is that it locates the knowledge that service users and carers bring to the encounter within the same framework as the knowledge demonstrated by social workers, other professionals and involved individuals. Since most of the published works on the subject of social work knowledge tend to be written by academics, a central aim of this paper is to make this subject accessible to social work practitioners, students, service users and carers in order to encourage their contribution to the debate on what constitutes the knowledge base of social work.