5 Jan 2021

Being a social worker

Being a social worker

Social work in Scotland

Since the introduction of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968, the social work profession has been subject to transformations which have developed and enriched social work in Scotland. There are dynamic changes to the design and provision of universal health care, welfare and education services which are placing increasing demands on social work as a profession within the landscape of integrated services for children and adults.

Social work continues to adapt and respond to societal need and the voices of lived experience, economic trends and policy direction to ensure it is effective and future focused in its contribution to and impact on the integrated and multidisciplinary landscape. The statement for advanced practice is founded on the international definition of social work and reaffirms the profession’s identity, underpinning values and key strengths. 

‘Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work. Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing.’
International Federation of Social Workers (2014)

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Reflective questions

  • How do I see my role as a social worker?
  • Why did I become a social worker?
  • What kind of social worker do I think I am?
  • What values do I believe I have? And how do I demonstrate them?

Policy context

Social workers operate in an increasingly complex policy and legal context. The drive towards public sector reform aims to create more joined up local services based within communities and supported by regional and national initiatives and arrangements. Social work can play a vital role in tackling some of the most important and pressing challenges facing our society in the 21st century as well as contributing towards ongoing sustainable development. 

Key challenges include:

  • persistent and often cross-generational poverty and disadvantage
  • delivering the promise of the independent care review, adult social care reform and other system-wide transformational policy agendas
  • an increasingly ageing population with people living longer with more complex needs and a reduced population of working aged adults
  • increasing number of drug related deaths, with Scotland being among the highest prevalence in Europe
  • 30,000 children a year affected by parental imprisonment
  • the climate emergency, human consequences, environmental justice and disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable people
  • constrained budgets affecting thresholds for social work and social care, as well as universal services (education and health)
  • reshaped organisational structures including diminished resources for social work specific learning, workforce development and support 

Social work role 

Social workers bring ethics, values and rights-based approaches to an increasingly complex continuum of practice from early intervention to securing people’s safety. Social workers build effective therapeutic relationships and collaborate with others, moving beyond the purely transactional intervention. Relationship-based practice and partnership working are vital to providing effective and sustainable support which recognises the complex and difficult backgrounds of people and communities and the need to seek approaches that empower and build on strengths. 

Social workers are operating in an arena that can at times be complex, ambiguous and unpredictable. They hold a range of knowledge of both theory and legislation as well as the skills and confidence to be able to manage the competing demands and expectations of their professional role. 

Social workers work increasingly in diverse and multidisciplinary services and settings across the public, third and independent sector. While roles may vary according to specific services, they are underpinned by a core set of knowledge and skills. Developing in your career as an NQSW sets the foundations for undertaking this role.

Reserved function of the social worker

There are a range of clear and reserved functions social workers are accountable for. These functions are integral to formal statutory interventions relating to care and protection, criminal justice, mental health and adults with incapacity, and the professional leadership role of a chief social work officer (CSWO). In undertaking these functions social workers are required to balance competing needs, rights and risks. The decisions they make in exercising these functions need to draw on a range of appropriate sources of knowledge and evidence and be person-centred; considering the views of multi-agency partners and communicated effectively to a range of stakeholders.

However, these functions alone do not reflect every aspect of social work practice and the contribution social workers make in different services and practice settings. Social workers ensure robust safeguarding by offering advice and support underpinned by their understanding of statutory frameworks. They support colleagues by championing strengths-based and person-centred planning and care. They challenge deficit-based practice while recognising the wider family and systemic context. 

Being a social worker

Social workers work in complex social situations to support and protect individuals and groups and promote their well-being.  Social workers must be aware of their responsibility to promote the well-being, support and protection of vulnerable children or adults at risk of harm or abuse irrespective of role, setting and situation.

Social workers need to be able to act effectively in these demanding circumstances and, to achieve this, social workers must be able to critically reflect on, and take responsibility for, their actions.  Social workers should demonstrate engagement with their on-going learning and professional development and should inform practice through critical analysis and reflection, using research and evidence appropriately to support professional decision making.

Since the nature, scope and purpose of social work services themselves are often fiercely debated, social workers should also be able to understand these debates fully and to analyse, adapt to, manage and promote change. 

Social workers should be aware of personal and professional wellbeing and resilience, seeking appropriate support to maintain a positive work/life balance.

Head icon with gears to indicate reflective thinking

Reflective questions

  • What have you learned about yourself going through the process from student to NQSW?
  • What are your feelings about being a registered social worker and on a professional register?
  • What difference do you think it will make to your practice?

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