Social Work Dissertation Topics

Social Work in the Media

The way social workers are represented in the media is a fascinating subject to look into for your dissertation. From high profile cases to portrayals in television programmes, deciding to do your dissertation on social work in the media could be a very exciting venture! Take a look at some suggestions below:

Example social work in the media dissertation topic 1:

An analysis of the lessons that can be learnt from the ‘Baby P’ case with regard to both field work and social work management

‘Baby P’ died at the age of seventeen months, having suffered more than 50 injuries in less than a year. The ramifications of the failure of health services and social workers to protect ‘Baby P’ from his murderers have resonated through British society. This study examines the findings from the three inquiries established after his death, as well as the national review of social service care provisions. Further, it explores Lord Laming’s report subsequent to the death of ‘Baby P’ and which considered the changes that had (or had not) occurred after his extensive review of the Victoria Climbié case.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Elliott, D. (2009) ‘The failure of organizational learning from crisis – a matter of life and death?’ Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, Vol. 17(3), pp. 157-168.
  • Ferguson, I. and Lavelette, M. (2009) ‘Social work after Baby P’, Journal of International Socialism, Vol. 122.
  • Garrett, P.M. (2010) ‘Recognizing the limitations of the political theory of recognition: Axel Honneth, Nancy Fraser and social work’, British Journal of Social Work, Vol. 40(5), pp. 1517-1533.

Example social work in the media dissertation topic 2:

Lessons from Cleveland: The effect of the media

The Cleveland child abuse case was a scandal in many different ways. First, the number of children taken into care was substantial, at 121 children. Secondly, the media not only created widespread awareness of not only the specific cases in Cleveland but in the issue of child abuse nationally; further, come families used this power of the media to call for re-investigation of their case, and thus the media was in part responsible for the restitution of children to their families.. Thirdly, broad community perceptions were that social workers were the agents of removal, yet such removals were undertaken on the advice of medical professionals, and, in some cases, contrary to the advice of social workers. Focusing upon the role of the media and the lessons learned, this dissertation asks whether more still needs to be done to not protect those who are not guilty until so proven and the need for greater sensitivity from the press. In so doing, this case reviews the role of the press not only in the Cleveland case but in subsequent media-fuelled cases such as that of Baby P.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Ayre, P. (2001) ‘Child protection and the media: Lessons from the last three decades’, British Journal of Social Work, Vol. 31(6), pp. 887-901.
  • Parton, N. (2012) ‘Reflections on ‘governing the family’: The close relationship between child protection and social work in advanced Western societies – The example of England’, Families, Relationships and Societies, Vol. 1(1), pp. 87-101.


Safeguarding is a very important topic in social work and a very popular choice! Safeguarding service users and even the way social workers are safeguarded are interesting subjects to explore. We have got a few recommendations below which may help you:


Example safeguarding dissertation topic 1:

The impact of multi-agency working on safeguarding children. A literature and practice-based review

This dissertation examines factors such as an increased understanding of professional roles, communication, coherent service and tension reduction, and how these impact on professionals in multi-agency working practice. It does so by illustrating challenges and benefits through both literature and the conducting of primary research through interviews with existing practitioners. Through this multi-method research approach this study examines the outcomes for children when different professionals from different agencies work with them and highlights how distinct knowledge, skills and values of social work is compatible within a multi-agency working approach.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Burnett., R. and Appleton, C. (2004) ‘Joined-up services to tackle youth crime’, British Journal of Criminology, Vol. 44(1), pp.34-54.
  • Frost, N. and Lloyd, A. (2006) ‘Implementing multi-disciplinary teamwork in the new child welfare policy environment’, Journal of Integrated Care, Vol. 14(2), pp. 11-17.

Example safeguarding dissertation topic 2:

The practical challenges of inter-professional practice in social work today

Social work and intervention does not exist in a vortex of isolation. Rather, to ensure that the best possible interventions are made a cross agency approach is often needed. With young people and vulnerable adults this often takes the form of working with probation services, schools and colleges, health care professionals and a variety of additional stakeholders. Using a multi-method research technique and based on trainee observations within Bolton, this is a dissertation that provides a valuable insight to the challenges that face inter-agency and inter-professional working patterns (including comments on the differences in departmental governance and practices).

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Bell, L. and Allain, L. (2011) ‘Exploring professional stereotypes and learning for inter-professional practice: An example from UK qualifying level social work education’, Social Work Education: The International Journal, Vol. 30(3), pp. 266-280.
  • Pollard, K., Miers, M. and Rickaby, C. (2012) ‘‘Oh why didn’t I take more notice?’ Professionals’ views and perceptions of their pre-qualifying interprofessional learning as preparation for interprofessional working in practice’, Journal of Interprofessional Care, not yet published.
  • Pollard, K.C., Thomas, J. and Miers, M. (eds) (2010) Understanding interprofessional working in health and social care: Theory and practice. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Example safeguarding dissertation topic 3:

The safeguarding of vulnerable adults: Social work interventions

Vulnerable adults take many forms; from those with learning difficulties to those who, through for instance old age or infirmity, can no longer look after themselves. In a similar guise, interventions can also take on a plethora of characteristics. This dissertation focuses particularly on vulnerable young adults in the 18 – 24 year old age group who possess mental health difficulties within the Greater Newcastle area. Grounded in theory, this dissertation also takes advantage of interviews with practitioners, clients and the family of clients to assess the extent to which present-day interventions not only conform to best practice but could also be further improved so as to ensure that client care is always maximised.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Grant, G. (2012) ‘Safeguarding vulnerable adults over the life course’, in, Katz, J., Peace, S. and Spurr, S. Adult lives: A life course perspective. Bristol: Policy Press.
  • Johnson, F. (2011) ‘Problems with the term and concept of ‘abuse’: Critical reflections on the Scottish adult support and protection study’, British Journal of Social Work, Vol. 42(3).
  • Van Dorn, R.A., Scheyett, A., Swartz, M.S. and Swanson, J.W. (2010) ‘Psychiatric advance directives and social workers: An integrative review’, Social Work, Vol. 55(2), pp. 157-167.

Example safeguarding dissertation topic 4:

A note in the diary is not enough: Personal safety issues for social workers

As statistics prove, assaults and other acts of aggression are increasingly being levelled against social workers. Too often, however, the only precautionary measure taken by agencies (particularly those within the charitable sector) is a note in the diary where the social worker is expected to be at a certain time. This dissertation explores the measures currently in place at three sites: a local authority, and two charitable sector sites. It evaluates whether these measures are sufficient to maintain the physical safety of social workers, and whether the social workers in question feel safe when undertaking their duties. Finally, it considers whether inadequate safety measures impair the quality of work undertaken (for example, as a result of lack of focus) and develops recommendations for future practice.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • McDonald, G. (2005) ‘Violence in the social work workplace: The Canadian experience’, International Social Work, Vol. 48(6), pp. 772-781.
  • Bibby, P. (1994) Personal safety for social workers. Abingdon: Ashgate. Taylor, H., Beckett, C. and McKeigue, B. (2008) ‘Judgements of Solomon: Anxieties and defences of social workers involved in care proceedings’, Child & Family Social Work, Vol. 13, pp. 23-31.

Service Users

If you are not sure what to look into but know you would like to focus on a specific type of service user, whether it be a certain community, a child, a vulnerable adult or the elderly, we have some suggestions for you!

Example service user dissertation topic 1:

An exploration of attitudes and perceptions of oppression apparent between healthcare practitioners and the Polish community

Polish nationals can be viewed as exploited and Chen, Vanek and Carr (2004) suggest that migrant workers do not always have appropriate access to emergency health care. This, when combined with a lack of recognition for countless migrant workers, can further hamper the ability of Polish people to adequately access health care provision within the UK. Building upon the Social Oppression matrix of Hardiman and Jackson (1997) this dissertation evaluates how oppression can manifest itself within health care within the UK with reference to a particular ethnic community.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Chen, M., Vanek, J. and Carr, M., 2004. Mainstreaming informal employment and gender in poverty reduction. London: Commonwealth Secretariat. Hardiman, R. and Jackson, R., 1997. Conceptual foundations for social justice courses. New York: Routledge.

Example service user dissertation topic 2:

Learning to hold back: The practical application of empowerment in service users

Empowerment is a key component of modern social work practice as it helps service users to identify means of effecting change. However, the wish to assist service users can be so strong that social workers can risk diminishing empowering service users. This dissertation considers how such well-meaning disempowerment can occur, how often it occurs, and how social workers can avoid this phenomenon. In so doing, it explores the current literature on the topic as secondary research. The primary research options could include interviews with social workers, service users or a combination of the two. Ultimately, this dissertation hopes to offer advice on coping mechanisms for social work students.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Gutierrez, L.M., Parsons, R.J. and Cox, E.O. (eds) (1998) Empowerment in social work practice: A sourcebook. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks Cole Publishing.
  • Havig, K.K. (2011) Empowerment for social justice: A grounded theory study of social work field instruction strategies. PhD Thesis, University of Missouri-Columbia. Available at: [accessed 26 May 2012].
  • Parsons, R.J. (1991) ‘Empowerment: Purpose and practice principle in social work’, Journal of Community and Clinical Practice, Vol. 14(2), pp. 7-21.

Social Work and Education

You may prefer to talk about how social work and education fit together. This is a very good topic as the research available to you will be plentiful. You could look into how social work is taught at university to social workers roles in schools. Take a look at these suggestions to help you get started!

Example social work and education dissertation topic 1:

Coping with inherent cultural perspectives: A transition to social work

It is important for the future of social work that social workers come from a variety of backgrounds as indeed service users come from a wide variety of backgrounds. However, in widening participation in social work employment amongst people with differing, ethnic, social, religious and cultural backgrounds, it must be acknowledged that understanding how to overcome existing cultural beliefs is also important in training the social workers of tomorrow. This study examines how social work students from a variety of backgrounds cope with the transition and includes both secondary research through a comprehensive literature review, but primary research in the form of interviews with psychologists, social workers, and university lecturers in social work.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Anderson, S.C. and Henderson, D.C. (1985) ‘Working with lesbian alcoholics’, Social Work, Vol. 30(6), pp. 518-525.
  • Gambrill, E.D. (2006) Social work practice: A critical thinker’s guide. Oxford: Osford University Press.
  • Hepworth, D.H., Rooney, R.H., Rooney, G.B., Strom-Gottfried, K. and Larsen, J-A. (eds) (2010) Direct social work practice: Theory and skills. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.

Example social work and education dissertation topic 2:

Evidence-based practice: A model for lifelong learning

Within undergraduate and postgraduate social work degrees the importance of promulgating evidence-based practice is accepted and well grounded. However, for the more seasoned practitioner, the habitual use – and acceptance of – intuition-based practice can lead to resistance in the adoption of theories of evidence-based practice. This dissertation accordingly evaluates the extent to which professionals within the field who are in their late 40s and 50s would benefit from career professional development that takes them back into the classroom to revise their theoretical understandings of key issues and to do so with reference to evidence-based case studies that have been academically evaluated.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Grinnell, R.M and Unrau, Y.A. (2011) Social work research and evaluation: Foundations of evidence-based practice (9th edn) .Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Kazi, M.A.F., Pagkos, B. and Milch, H. (2011) ‘Realist evaluation in wraparound: A new approach in social work evidence-based practice’, Research on Social Work Practice, Vol. 21(1), pp. 57-64.

Social Work Ethics

Ethics play a huge role in the life of a social worker but how can you work this into a dissertation? Maybe you would like to discuss the ethical practices in a past case or discuss the ethics of end of life care. If you are not to sure how you can decide on a topic relating to ethics, these suggestions may be of use to you:

Example social work ethics dissertation topic 1:

End of life decisions: The role of the social worker

The population of the United Kingdom is an ageing one. Movements for euthanasia have strengthened public awareness of end of life decisions and social workers can sometimes be at the centre of service users’ wish to cease living. This dissertation examines the legal position of social workers in end of life decisions, as well as the ethical and emotional ramifications of calls thereof. The study reviews the training options currently given in the arena both to social work students, and to existing social workers through continuing professional development seminars and programmes. Finally, it draws up recommendations for the means by which social workers can clarify their roles, and provides links to the support available for those in such situations.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Christ, G.H. and Sormanti, M. (2008) ‘Advancing social work practice in end-of-life care’, Social Work in Health Care, Vol. 30(2), pp. 81-99.
  • Csikai, E.L. (1999) ‘The role of values and experience in determining social workers’ attitudes toward euthanasia and assisted suicide’, Social Work Health Care, Vol. 30(1), pp.75-95.
  • Dolgoff, R., Harrington, D. and Loewenberg, F.M. (eds) (2012). Ethical decisions for social work practice (9th edn). Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.

Social Work Training

Training for social workers never really stops and it would be an interesting topic to choose for a dissertation! It can be hard to focus in on a more niche area of training so we have put together some suggestions which may help you out!

Example social work training dissertation topic 1:

The act of reflection: Self-indulgence or a model for learning in social work

The need to reflect upon one’s own professional practice is seen as paramount within the training that one receives in social work. This dissertation seeks, however, to test the validity of this contention with reference to work ‘in the field’. Through so doing it questions whether, in a profession that is always short of time and resources, continued self-reflection is essential to ensure that the practitioner stays focused upon their work or whether it is largely an exercise in self-indulgence utilising time that could be better spent in reviewing case notes and ensuring that interventions always conform or exceed desired best practice. In furthering this line of enquiry the dissertation uses both qualitative and quantitative research techniques as well as comparative work from social work services abroad to provide a series of reasoned recommendations with regard to the need for self-evaluation and continued professional development.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Heron, B. (2005) ‘Self‐reflection in critical social work practice: Subjectivity and the possibilities of resistance’, Reflective Practice: International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives, Vol. 6(3), pp. 341-351.
  • Mann, K., Gordon, J. and MacLeod, A. (2009) ‘Reflection and reflective practice in health professions education: A systematic review’, Advances in Health Sciences Education, Vol. 14(4), pp. 595-621.
  • Wilson, G. and Kelly, B. (2010) ‘Evaluating the effectiveness of social work education: Preparing students for practice learning’, British Journal of Social Work, Vol. 40(8), pp. 2431-2449.

Example social work training dissertation topic 2:

Mentoring as a crucial component of social work training: A review

The role of the mentor is pivotal within social work training. Not only is the personal relationship and rapport between mentor and mentee important in the development of professional conduct but the mentor also acts as a ‘first port of the interplay between individual mentors and mentees can have a dramatic effect not only on what the mentee learns but also on their career development. Shadowing three social work trainees in two London boroughs this dissertation combines qualitative and quantitative research techniques to produce a dissertation that is not only grounded in accepted reasoning but also first-hand experience.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Ragins, B.R. and Cotton, J.L. (1999) ‘Mentor functions and outcomes: A comparison of men and women in formal and informal mentoring relationships’, Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 84(4), pp. 529-550.
  • Leung, Z.C.S. (2009) ‘Knowledge management in social work: Types and processes of knowledge sharing in social service organizations’, British Journal of Social Work, Vol. 39(4), pp. 693-709.
  • Tsui, M. (2005) Social work supervision: Contexts and concepts. London: SAGE.

Example social work training dissertation topic 3:

A change in career: A transition to social work from previous employment – the student’s experience

This dissertation looks at the experience of two trainee social workers who have embarked on a change of career during their 30s. The two students in question are both studying at Manchester Metropolitan University and have given full consent to this study. Notwithstanding issues of ethics and data protection this dissertation provides a unique insight to the challenges and difficulties faced by those who seek to enter the profession after a previous career. Through being based in both theory and practical realities this dissertation makes not only a valuable contribution to existing academic literature but could also be of use to those who, in the future, are also contemplating a change of career into social work.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Collins, S., Coffey, M. and Morris, L. (2010) ‘Social work students: Stress, support and well-being’ British Journal of Social Work, Vol. 40(3), pp. 963-982.
  • Crisp, B.R. and Maidment, J. (2009) ‘Swapping roles or swapping desks? When experienced practitioners become students on placement’, Learning in Health and Social Care, Vol. 8(3), pp. 165-174.

Social Policy

Policies in social work are very important and it may be that you would prefer to investigate this further within your dissertation. Take a look at some recommendations below:

Example social policy dissertation topic 1:

The policies of the Coalition Government with respect to social work: A review

The age of austerity ushered in with the election of the Coalition Government has resulted in a number of key changes to the way in which social work is governed within England and Wales. The need for cost efficiencies has already resulted in a decline in the number of case workers and, through that, an increased work load for those who remain. This, when coupled with a decline in the amount of money by which to launch investigations, means that front line services have been adversely affected since the Coalition came to power. Given the on-going need for departments to make further cuts this dissertation not only analyses the already-felt effect of the Coalition’s cuts but also predicts the likely effects of the further cuts over the next two financial years.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Jordan, B. (2012) ‘Making sense of the ‘Big Society’: Social work and the moral order’, Journal of Social Work, not yet published.
  • Parton, N. (2011) ‘Child protection and safeguarding in England: Changing and competing conceptions of risk and their implications for social work’, British Journal of Social Work, Vol. 41(5), pp. 854-875.
  • Parton, N. (2012), ‘Reflections on ‘governing the family’: The close relationship between child protection and social work in advanced Western societies – The example of England’, Families, Relationships and Societies, Vol. 1(1), pp. 87-101.

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