The purpose of social work is to solve problems in human relationships and empower people so they can improve their well-being. This means social workers must interact with clients and organisations to provide support, practical help and advice. Social work theory generally places such interactions into three levels of intervention; micro, meso and macro.
At the micro level of intervention, social workers concentrate on helping individuals solve problems in their lives. These problems may relate to difficulties with partners, children, other family members or neighbours. At the micro level, social workers manage cases for client services, obtain resources to improve the quality of housing, food and health, and refer clients to specialist agencies. In the UK, social workers place more emphasis on micro level intervention than meso or macro.
Social workers refer to the second level of intervention as meso or mezzo. Meso interventions apply to communities rather than individuals. They also refer to workplace environments and to client services such as health care and social security benefits. At the meso intervention level, social workers concentrate on bringing people together. Consequently, they need to be able to negotiate and find common ground within a group.
The third level of social work intervention is macro. This level stresses the importance of economic, historical, sociopolitical and environmental influences on the human condition. Social workers consider how these factors can create problems for individuals and also lead to opportunities. Macro interventions from social workers focus on reviewing national and local legislation, and changing the policies and procedures of organisations. The intention is to make changes in their clients' favour. However, some commentators question the validity of macro level interventions in social work.
Social policy influences the extent to which social workers become involved in each of the three levels of intervention. In the UK, for example, collaborative working and human rights are trends that have affected social policy since the 1980s. Another prominent UK social policy trend emphasises the value of personalising public services such as social work. Together, these trends have encouraged UK social workers to focus on micro-level interventions and deal directly with individual clients.