Continuing our series of “guest blogs”, this week features Trisha Hall, Manager, SASW (The Scottish Association of Social Work, part of BASW UK)
On this auspicious occasion of the Chief Social Work Adviser’s generous outsourcing of his blog, it falls to me to deliver a few words on working within the Social Services Strategy for Scotland 2015-2020. In this blog I’d like to talk specifically about social work, not ‘social services’.
Some readers may be thinking ‘surely they’re the same?’ I spend much of my time arguing they are not, but also stressing how important it is that social workers work within the wider context of a social services partnership, and indeed with other disciplines such as health, education, housing, police and other agencies in order to best serve the people we work with and for. We have been a collaborative profession for many years and simply can’t do our job without liaising, working together and advocating on behalf of people, without engaging with other services.
According to SSSC data publications, social workers account for approximately 11.000 of the more than 190.000 workers which constitute the ‘social services workforce’. The profession was granted “protection of title” status in the 1990s, which cemented the fact that only those with the relevant degree are able to call themselves social workers. I can be like an irritating stuck record on that one, especially when we are referred to as ‘social services workers’ or ‘senior social services workers. We have met with many social workers over this summer at our ‘SASW Sessions’ to talk about social work and what it means to be a social worker in Scotland today. We have been in 14 different locations so far, ranging from big cities to rural settings, and have a number of others in the pipeline for the months ahead.
There is much to be proud of and pleased about in Scotland. It has been both exhilarating and affirming to note the passion and dedication of social workers who attended our sessions. Many remain certain that they are still in the right job and we heard individual examples and stories of great practice which made our hearts sing.
Tellingly, a recurring theme in the sessions was people who had registered but were then unable to come as urgent work pressures got in the way. We also heard about the stress, the impact on people who use services not getting what is needed as resources are so stretched, tiredness, effect of the ‘agile” working culture (i.e., no desk, no contact with colleagues) and frustration. At times there can be an apparent disconnect between target driven outputs and the reality of the job. This is particularly evident in workplaces where approaches to collaborative working between health and social work has not been resolved and often in situations where social workers are directly line managed by health professionals who may sometimes hold different views on what is important or desirable in social work.
One social worker recently said: “It feels like we have been disintegrated as a result of integration” referring to how the social work teams of old are now dispersed. What we try to do is find different ways of keeping the unique contribution of the social work profession to the fore, as we are such a crucial component of the whole workforce. The risk here reminds me of the old story of the small cog in the wheel, which, once lost, will undoubtedly lead to the vehicle swerving.
Social work has a long history of working towards social justice and speaking up for those in our society who have no voice. Scotland has a very proud history of social work, which has a foundation in ‘Scottish enlightenment’. The thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment in the 18th Century asserted the fundamental importance of human reason combined with a rejection of any authority that could not be justified by reason. They held to an optimistic belief in the ability of humanity to effect changes for the better in society and nature. Much of this can be seen within the provisions of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 and related legislation.
I was reminded of the very different meanings of ‘society’ during our SASW Session visit to Shetland late August. My own background in statutory social work was within a rural setting, and Shetland too has a similar unique environment where so many people know each other, but has the added dimensions of being literally cut off from other areas, as well as situations probably rarely occurring elsewhere, such as the worker who popped in to our session to say she had registered, but had to get to the office as she had been stuck in Aberdeen for two days after a meeting and had to take a 12 hour boat journey back as flights were cancelled due to the fog caused by low lying clouds.
In our visits across the country, we have taken copies of the “Social Services Vision and Strategy 2015-20” (and as they are quite heavy and flight allowances limited, we stress that the document is available online!) While we find not many frontline practitioners are aware of the detail, as they lack the time to absorb it in its entirety, they are pleased to note the various work streams of the Vision and Strategy and keen to see the translation of those on the ground.
What we have heard about most is social workers wanting to connect with, learn from, and talk to other social workers about social work practice and share examples of work with users of services. There are currently two examples of how we as the professional organisation in Scotland are working to make that happen. Firstly, the work with Professor Viv Cree from the University of Edinburgh and partners on ‘Revisiting Child Protection’ is a great example of the “improving use of evidence” strand of the Strategy. (http://www.socialwork.ed.ac.uk/research/grants_and_projects/current_projects/revisiting_child_protection_in_scotland) As a lead partner in this work, we will be hosting ‘Communities of Practice’ for social workers in child protection which we want to continue once the Project has come to an end.
Secondly, the SASW Mental Health Officers (MHO) Forum annual study day provides a rare opportunity for social workers in this complex area to meet and talk, and it is also an example of bringing the Strategy to life. The day has been a feature in October for well over a decade and as funds have become ever tighter for many activities, SASW has taken the action of setting up an ‘MHO Collaborative’ – a partnership of Learning Network West, the Scottish Social Services Council, the Mental Welfare Commission, Glasgow Caledonian University, the University of Strathclyde and Social Work Scotland. Some of our members, MHOs who are working across Scotland, have been instrumental in helping us develop this. We have pooled expertise and some of our partners have also managed to find some financial contributions, which will allow us to continue the two free places per local authority. I hope the event in Perth on 26 October, will allow MHOs to not only update on relevant issues on capacity, human rights and the new 2015 Mental Health Act, but also to talk with and to each other.
I am also excited about SASW’s opportunity to input to the Scottish Government’s Review of Child Protection as we have 18 of our members on a reference group informing our contribution to the review chaired by Catherine Dyer. What our members tell us about their experiences of workloads and pressures is not routinely available as robust evidence; so our response is that it is up to us as a profession to speak out, but to do so in a constructive manner, as this makes people sit up and take notice.
As we make our contribution in the ways I have outlined in this blog and ensure that our views and experiences are considered, I hope it will become clear that our profession, in partnership with all the other organisations which are contributing to implementation of the Vision and Strategy for Social Services has a crucial role to play in achieving the intended outcomes. We are delighted that more people with lived experience, users of services are talking to us in a frank and honest manner about what social work input has meant, we also need to have the on-going conversations with social workers. Let’s stay proud of what we achieve, and let’s work hard to maintain that “optimistic belief in the ability of humanity to effect changes for the better in society and nature.”
Trisha Hall, Manager, SASW (The Scottish Association of Social Work, part of BASW UK)