Menu

Anti-racist social work

Social work has a key role to play in anti-oppressive practice, promoting social justice and fairness. This includes racism at the personal, social and structural levels.

Practitioners need to work in a way that supports and protects people and challenges discrimination in all forms and is culturally sensitive.

The recently revised Standards in Social Work Education (SiSWE) strengthen the focus on the social context of practice and are underpinned by clear ethical principles. The characteristics of NQSW practice continue to hold these principles strongly.

The SSSC Codes of Practice clearly state that any form of discrimination is not acceptable and that workers or employers should not condone any discrimination.

All workers and employers support that people are respected, their rights are upheld and they work in a way that promotes diversity and respects different cultures and values.

Upholding public trust and confidence in social services relies on these values and behaviours.

Network of social workers

We will be continuing to enhance this resource through our national NQSW project over 2021-22. Please let us know if you have any recommendations for what is helpful for NQSWs and their managers.

Trauma is everybody’s business

The experience and impact of trauma and adversity in the lives of Scottish people is more pervasive than has previously been recognised. This has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. NQSWs have a key role in understanding the impact of trauma and working in a way that recognises this.

A vision for Scotland

“A trauma informed and responsive nation and workforce, that is capable of recognising where people are affected by trauma and adversity, that is able to respond in ways that prevent further harm and support recovery, and can address inequalities and improve life chances”


National trauma training programme Scotland 2021

The National Trauma Training Programme (NTTP) supports the shared ambition of the Scottish Government, COSLA and partners from across Scotland of a trauma-informed and responsive nation and workforce as seen in this vision.

A trauma-informed nation

  • Realises the prevalence of trauma
  • Recognises the impact of trauma especially in relation to barriers it can create to life chances
  • Responds with that recgnotion in mind
  • Does no harm, supports recovery, creates systems that remove potential trauma-related barriers
  • Recognises and supports resilience
  • Understands that relationships matter

National trauma training programme

Whatever your role as a social worker, it is important to develop skills and knowledge that understands how the impact of trauma might affect people’s responses to you and your organisation. Learning more can help you adapt your work approach. You may also have an explicit role as a social worker supporting children or adults affected by trauma to recover.

Please let us know if there are any learning resources that you would recommend to other NQSWs.

We are supporting the workforce to develop their capacity to embed personal outcomes approaches in their day-to-day practice and deliver better outcomes for people using services.

Find out about the work and the range of learning and development resources for you Personal outcomes – Scottish Social Services Council

Please note that these links will take you to external sources out of the SSSC NQSW website.

Find out more about this area of work and the resources that can support your learning and development Palliative and end of life care – Scottish Social Services Council

Developing your knowledge and skills for working with people who live with dementia

Do you work with people who live with dementia? SSSC have an online resource to help social workers and other professionals implement the Promoting Excellence learning framework and the Standards of Care for Dementia in Scotland within their practice.

This is a detailed and focused learning resource which is ideal if you want to develop more knowledge and skills for working with people who live with dementia.

You will find the link to the Enhanced dementia practice for social workers resource below.

Shared by NQSWs

  • NQSWs told us they liked to use Alzheimer Scotland resources
  • These cover many aspects of daily living for individuals and carers
  • https://www.alzscot.org

References and links

Please remember that if you click on these links they will take you to information and resourcs that are external to the SSSC NQSW website.

This is a specific learning resource for social workers which you can access from SSSC Enhanced dementia practice for social workers

The resource is currently being updated so you can let us know if you find any broken links.

For general introductory information about dementia, you can find links to guides and strategy from Public Health Scotland Public health Scotland Dementia Information

We’d also recommend the Psychology of Dementia team at NES and the resource Promoting Psychological Wellbeing people with dementia

Our new online guide for Dementia Ambassadors and other supporting people living with dementia can be found here Information and advice for Dementia Ambassadors

What does research on resilience tell us?

Key findings from recent BASW research advocates that social workers need:

  • positive working conditions to provide good services
  • professional development time for reflective supervision
  • manageable caseloads and a consistent approach to allocation
  • support to reduce stress and improve wellbeing

Much helpful guidance including the IRISS Insight on Achieving Effective Supervision (Kettle, 2015) identifies that good supervision happens when part of a broader learning culture with the following features: 

  • regular reviews of problems provide learning opportunities 
  • an organisational commitment to continuing professional learning
  • space is made for professional autonomy and discretion
  • the emotional impact of social work practice is recognised 

There is increased awareness of the impact of secondary trauma from supporting people who use our services and the impact that this has on workers.

Supervision and resilience

Approaches need to ensure that supervision covers the spectrum of worker needs whether in the individual relationship or a mixture of approaches including mentoring and structured peer groups. In balance with this ‘compassion satisfaction’ (Alkema et al, 2008), is a complementary concept to that of compassion fatigue, which energises us in our role by seeing positive changes for people who use services.

The transition from university into practice may be empowering or challenging as you adjust to the additional workload. Managing this transition with feelings of growing capacity and competence requires building a good relationship with a supervisor and also being aware of wider relationships and resources you can access before any work stress inhibits managing your role.

Resilience resources

The IRISS website has a helpful set of resilience resources for social work and social care workers collected by IRISS, Social Work Scotland and SSSC with examples from practice.

Adamson et al (2014) argue that coping behaviours and work-life balance are essential parts of maintaining wellbeing in a profession where the use of self is our core resource.

Researchers identified several burnout factors in social workers including vicarious traumatisation and compassion fatigue (Alkema et al., 2008). However, the study supports the view that, despite working in adverse conditions, social workers also experience high levels of job satisfaction a phenomenon they term as ‘compassion satisfaction’.

To reduce the risk of burnout we need to have self-knowledge and be willing to challenge assumptions we have around having to cope and fearing that a supervisor may judge us when we are overwhelmed. Supervisors are unlikely to judge, as they will most probably have experienced times when they were less able to cope so it is useful to be honest about difficulties so a supervisor has a chance to respond to any support needs.

Knowing about local resources for workers including employee assistance schemes and access to de-briefing support, telephone and face to face counselling options can also be useful, ask your supervisor about this. Making sure you are ok and taking up offers of support is a strength, not a weakness.

Wider resilience resources include things like mindfulness practice which has become more accessible in recent years and can be a useful practice to support wellbeing. Many workers, even if familiar, may benefit from a reminder and links to free resources below given that apps are often subscription-based.

Following a few years of research, BASW has also produced a good practice toolkit for wellbeing and working conditions. This helpfully separates responsibilities for:

  • Social workers in direct practice
  • Social work supervisors and practice leaders
  • Teams, team leaders and managers
  • Senior managers and organisational leaders
  • Professional organisations & Trade unions

Information and links

Shared by other NQSWs

Reflective questions

  • Think about a time in previous roles, during study or SW placement when you were feeling overwhelmed and note down what internal and external resources you accessed to help manage
  • What else might have helped you?
  • Do you have a clear wellbeing plan of what you do to support yourself both inside and outside of work?
  • What are the indicators that you would need to ask for further support?
  • Given that we often struggle to think clearly in times of crisis, you might want to note things down to be aware of what would help you if you need it.

Go to NQSW supervision resource 8 – Making best use of supervision

Learning from reviews across practice settings

In the aftermath of Victoria Climbié’s death a serious case review was conducted by Lord Laming (2009) who focused on social worker wellbeing and emotional costs of the work as well as supervision practices:

‘There is concern that the tradition of deliberate, reflective social work practice is being put in danger because of an overemphasis on process and targets, resulting in a loss of confidence amongst social workers.’

Laming (2009)

The Care Inspectorate (2019) regularly consider aggregated learning from case reviews. This highlights that sufficient support for workers is needed to be confident and competent. This includes “robust and regular supervision that enables constructive challenge and time to reflect on practice and develop skills.”

The most comprehensive reviews occur when there have been extremely serious harms to vulnerable children or adults. In the case of social work these have often identified a break down in procedures (including appropriate supervision), meaning opportunities for intervention to prevent serious harms were missed.

In the overview for supervisors, we highlight enquiries that had significant findings for supervision in social work settings. Scottish case reviews have also had findings around supervision adequacy.

The National Child Protection Leadership Group now provide strategic oversight and mechanisms for improvement regarding child protection across Scotland and have addressed reoccurring issues. These include organisational support and compliance with good quality supervision and support that addresses the scope of professional discretion and identifies training and development needs of practitioners. 

Information and links

Learning and looking after yourself

We introduce a reflective learning activity below. We encourage you to take care of yourself as you work through learning in relation to serious case reviews. It is essential to acknowledge the intense emotional responses we will have as social workers in the course of our work and learning.

Reflective questions

  • Explore the reports that have been published on learning/case reviews in Scotland.
  • Identify your own examples, where good supervision has supported positive outcomes for a client and where opportunities for improvement were not fully explored.
  • Consider which supervision behaviours impacted these differing outcomes.

What social workers need

Key findings from recent research advocates that social workers need;

  • Positive working conditions to provide good services
  • Professional development time for reflective supervision
  • Manageable caseloads and a consistent approach to allocation
  • Support to reduce stress and improve wellbeing

You can read about this recent research from BASW here BASW Social Worker wellbeing and working conditions

You will also find specific links to national resources on wellbeing and resilience at the bottom of this page.

Other helpful guidance including the IRISS Insight on Achieiving Effective Supervision (Kettle, 2015) identifies that good supervision happens when part of a broader learning culture with the following features: 

  • Regular reviews of problems provide learning opportunities 
  • Organisational commitment to continuing professional learning
  • Space is made for professional autonomy and discretion
  • The emotional impact of social work practice is recognised 

There is increased awareness of the impact of secondary trauma from supporting people who use our services and the impact that this can have.

Approaches need to ensure that supervision covers the spectrum of worker needs whether in the individual relationship or a mixture of approaches including mentoring and structured peer groups. In balance with this ‘compassion satisfaction’ (Alkema et al, 2008), is a complementary concept to that of compassion fatigue, which energises us in our role by seeing positive changes for people who use services.

Wellbeing and resilience

The transition from university into practice may be empowering for some but others may experience challenges in adjusting to new responsibilities and increased workload. Supporting NQSW’s to manage this transition with feelings of growing capacity and competence is an important task for supervisors.

Adamson et al (2014), argue that coping behaviours and work life balance are essential parts of maintaining wellbeing in a profession where the use of self is our core resource.

Researchers identified several burnout factors in social workers including vicarious traumatisation and compassion fatigue. This could lead to high worker turnover which negatively impacts the whole workplace and perpetuates a cycle of adversity, (Alkema et al 2008).

The research supports the view that, despite working in adverse conditions, social workers also experience high levels of job satisfaction, a phenomenon they term as compassion satisfaction.

As in practice we do have to put in boundaries from time to time when something exceeds either our mandate, our skills or an aspect of the relationship makes offering extended support a less than ideal fit.

This may include knowing about local resources for workers including Employee Assistance Schemes and access to de-briefing support, telephone and face to face counselling options. In the case of anonymous referral options to employee support services, it would be useful to include this in any contract at the outset of a supervision relationship. If assistance options are contained in the organisational policy, you might provide a copy ensuring the support information is accessible and clear.

Following a few years of research, BASW has also produced a good practice toolkit for wellbeing and working conditions. This helpfully separates responsibilities for:

  • Social workers in direct practice
  • Social work supervisors and practice leaders
  • Teams, team leaders and managers
  • Senior managers and organisational leaders
  • Professional organisations & Trade unions

Information and links

  • There is also a National Wellbeing Hub for all frontline social services workers and some current work is under development for specific social work resources being included there.
  • National Wellbeing Hub National Wellbeing Hub for people working in health and care
  • Adamson, C., Beddoe, L., & Davys, A. (2014). Building Resilient Practitioners: Definitions and Practitioner Understandings, British Journal of Social Work, 44 (3), 522-541
  • Alkema, K., Linton, J.M. & Davies, R. (2008). Self-Care, Compassion Satisfaction, Compassion Fatigue, and Burnout Among Hospice Professionals. Journal of Social Work in End-of-Life & Palliative Care, Vol. 4(2) 2008
  • BASW Social worker wellbeing and working conditions
  • BASW Social Worker Wellbeing – Good practice toolkit
  • IRISS Resilience Hub
  • Kettle, M. (2015). Achieving effective supervision. Insight 30: IRISS.

Shared by other NQSWs

Reflective questions for you as a supervisor

  • Think about a time in your professional development journey where you may have felt extremely stressed or struggled to cope with demands.
  • Write down what protective factors helped you to recover from that.
  • Consider how you might encourage supervisees to create their own list of what supports they could benefit from to prevent acute stress or burnout.

Go to supervisor resource 8 – Support needs of supervisors

Learning from reviews across practice settings

In the aftermath of the Victoria Climbié tragedy a serious case review was conducted by Lord Laming (2009) who focused on social worker wellbeing, emotional costs of the work as well as supervision practices.

“There is concern that the tradition of deliberate, reflective social work practice is being put in danger because of an overemphasis on process and targets, resulting in a loss of confidence amongst social workers.”

Laming (2009)

The Care Inspectorate (2019) regularly consider aggregated learning from case reviews. This highlights that sufficient support for workers is needed to be confident and competent. This includes “robust and regular supervision that enables constructive challenge and time to reflect on practice and develop skills.”

The most comprehensive reviews occur when there have been extremely serious harms to vulnerable children or adults. In the case of social work these have often identified a break down in procedures (including appropriate supervision), meaning opportunities for intervention to prevent serious harms were missed.

In the overview for supervisors on this website, there was a reference to the Victoria Climbie enquiry which had significant findings for supervision in social work settings. Scottish case and learning reviews have also had findings around supervision adequacy.

Organisational and strategic leadership for learning and supervision

The National Child Protection Leadership Group provide strategic oversight and mechanisms for improvement regarding child protection across Scotland and have addressed reoccurring issues. These include organisational support and compliance with good quality supervision and support that addresses the scope of professional discretion and identifies training and development needs of practitioners. 

Indirectly related to social work but useful for reflecting on professional development issues was the prolonged and serious failure of care at Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust. The UK government review had findings for supervision for allied health professions saying: “Regulation is no substitute for a culture of compassion, safe delegation and effective supervision.

Putting people on a centrally held register does not guarantee public protection. Rather it is about employers, commissioners and providers ensuring they have the right processes in place to ensure they have the right staff with the right skills to deliver the right care in the right way”. (Department of Health 2013, s5.22). 

Another example is the case of Sharon Greenop, who lived with physical disabilities and was tragically killed by her sister. The South Ayrshire review had findings around the provision of supervision, accessibility of senior staff and extreme workload pressures contributing to critical errors in recognising adult protection issues.

Culture change

A number of reviews have commented that social work needs to maintain core values and practices which may have been diluted through reorganisation of services as the public sector has tried to do more with less in recent decades.

An example of such culture change was observed when students on a UK social work leadership course exhibited resistance to engaging in an experiential module focusing on reflective practice. This was felt to be connected to a stronger identification with wider public sector management approaches rather than core social work reflective supervision practices, (Ruch, 2012).

Useful ideas

  • Identify your own examples, where good supervision supported positive outcomes for people who use services and where something went wrong or opportunities for improvement was missed.
  • Consider which supervision factors impacted this.

Go to supervisor resource 6 – Professional knowledge in supervision

Social work with adults

Social work with adults takes place across diverse settings and sectors and includes a broad range of interventions and services which aim to promote the wellbeing and protection of adults using a social-ecological perspective. This involves promoting and upholding the importance of relationships with a human rights and person-centred perspective in a complex social, policy and legislative context.

It is a hugely diverse area of practice that contributes significant expertise to adult social care and support services and across multiple formal and informal partnership arrangements. This includes health and social care, community justice, housing and homelessness, drug and alcohol use and mental health partnership arenas.

Social workers working with adults are in close partnership with a range of individual statutory and voluntary agencies, including children and young people’s services and can be working with adults across a wide age span from sixteen onwards depending on their role. This includes older people, dementia, frailty, palliative and end of life care; mental health, drug and alcohol, learning disabilities, physical and sensory disabilities, autism; support to carers and other specialist services.

You can reflect on how you work in teams and partnerships.

Social workers will be working with adults who are facing multiple physical, psychological and social issues and within diverse family and community contexts, including with carers. They work with the complex issues facing adults using outcomes-focused and strengths-based approaches; balancing rights and risks and taking appropriate action to support and protect people.

Those working in this area are knowledgeable about and fluent in the application of specific legislation in relation to their powers and duties along with broader legislation, policy and guidance. They use this knowledge to take action which supports choice and control, wellbeing and safety for individuals and the community.

Examples of the work often undertaken by social workers in this practice area include:

  • completing complex and comprehensive assessments and provision of reports to assist decision making and to make legal applications
  • contribution to multi-agency planning and leadership of interventions to support and protect adults and acting as a council officer
  • planning with and support for adults ensuring that they are fully involved in decision making about their care
  • provision of evidence-informed therapeutic and behaviour change interventions
  • some social workers who undertake an additional qualification may be working in the role of Mental Health Officer (MHO)

Whatever setting you work in please find out about the relevant legislation, policy and guidance. We’ve included some links here, but always recommend that you check the most up to date and relevant material within your practice setting.

Key legislation informing practice with adults

The Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000 provides ways to protect and safeguard the welfare and finances of adults who lack capacity to take some or all decisions for themselves because of a mental disorder or an inability to communicate.

The Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003 places duties on local councils to provide care and support services for people with mental disorders.

Under the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016, the police must provide support for persons in custody who are unable to sufficiently understand what is happening or communicate with the police because of a mental disorder.

The Adult Support and Protection (Scotland) Act 2007 aims to protect those adults who are unable to safeguard their own interests and are at risk of harm because they are affected by disability, mental disorder, illness, physical or mental infirmity.

Policy and practice guidance for working with adults

Scottish Government appropriate adult guidance for local authorities outlines statutory duties relating to the provision of Appropriate Adult services.

The Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland protects and promotes the human rights of people with mental illness, learning disabilities, dementia and related conditions.

The School of Forensic Mental Health promotes education, training and research.

The Mental Health Tribunal Scotland considers applications for Compulsory Treatment Orders under the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act.

Please let us know about any guidance and resources that you would like to recommend to other NQSWs working with adults.