Causality and Causal Inference in Social Work: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives

Res Soc Work Pract. 2014 Sep;24(5):540-547. doi: 10.1177/1049731514536056.


Achieving the goals of social work requires matching a specific solution to a specific problem. Understanding why the problem exists and why the solution should work requires a consideration of cause and effect. However, it is unclear whether it is desirable for social workers to identify cause and effect, whether it is possible for social workers to identify cause and effect, and, if so, what is the best means for doing so. These questions are central to determining the possibility of developing a science of social work and how we go about doing it. This article has four aims: (1) provide an overview of the nature of causality; (2) examine how causality is treated in social work research and practice; (3) highlight the role of quantitative and qualitative methods in the search for causality; and (4) demonstrate how both methods can be employed to support a "science" of social work.

Keywords: field of practice; methodological article; mixed methods; outcome study.