Intro to Case Notes for new social workers


Case notes are records of information and form a foundation for other core documents.  They are records of interactions with the children, families, and persons relevant to a given case or incident.  Good case notes employ strategic, insightful inquiry and an understanding of larger case processes.  When well written, case notes provide accurate, objective descriptions grounded in fact and evidence.  They leverage a social worker's assessments and opinions thoughtfully, but never include an undue amount of either.  In light of those criteria, it is apparent that writing case notes well is not an easy task.  What information needs to be recorded? How can case notes effectively remain objective while emphasizing important details by use of assessment?  

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this module you should be able to: 

  • Recognize final, good quality case notes
  • Identify concise writing in the context of writing / editing case notes

What are case notes?

Case notes are the chronological record of interactions, observations and actions involving a specific person and / or family.[1]

Case notes provide a record of all the things that have happened during a family’s involvement with Child Welfare, including phone calls, face-to-face contacts, contacts with service providers, team meetings, court hearings, and visits.  This record is important for social work continuity, for legal discovery purposes and for historical record.

Information recorded about a person or family should be impartial, accurate and complete with care taken to ensure that:

  • Only details relevant to investigation, assessment, or the provision of a support or service are recorded
  • Case notes do not include derogatory or emotive language
  • Subjective opinions are qualified with relevant background information, theory or research
  • Relevant information is not omitted[2]

[1] Adapted from Australian Association of Social Workers Ethical Guideline for Case Notes. Downloaded from: (Links to an external site.) on 9/5/13

[2] Adapted from Australian Association of Social Workers Ethical Guideline for Case Notes. Downloaded from: (Links to an external site.) on 9/5/13

See what case notes look like

Below are some examples of actual case notes.  Hover over a section or paragraph will expose a box around that section.  Click on the boxed section to zoom in for more details.  

As you explore the case notes example document, consider the following:

  • Are the individual paragraphs, or sentences, written differently?
  • What purposes do you think these case notes serve? How might that have influenced the way in which the author wrote them?
  • How would you describe the style of writing used in this example?

Download: Service log example_craig price

Watch case notes being written following an interview

Download: Crystal-interview

Compare interview notes to final case notes

After watching the previous interview, take a look below at how notes taken during the interview with Crystal are edited to become the formal case notes entered into official records.  Hover over a section and it becomes highlighted.  Click on any highlighted section to see the social workers thoughts about why she wrote interview notes or the final case notes in the given manner.  What differences do you see between the sections?

Download: informal to formal case notes example

Reflect on defining characteristics of case notes

In the previous exercise you were asked to reflect upon the process of writing case notes.  Here is your opportunity to PRACTICE writing your own case notes using the video video below (same as you saw earlier, without quiz questions).  Watch a section of the interview and then write the corresponding case notes as though you were the social worker.  

Download: Service Log_Crystal_demo.rtf

Use the above template to record your notes.  Only a few paragraphs are needed at most.

Physical Abuse interview Crystal 1

* The videos used in this resource were created by The Academy for Professional Excellence at San Diego State University, and have been remixed by CalSWEC with permission.  Source video available at <>

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