Struggling To Care

Overview —

Why Scotland needs to reform the role of social workers.


Colin Turbett

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Everyone has inherent potential. Everyone is valuable and resourceful and can make a meaningful contribution to their wider community if we find ways of including them. We just need to support their wellbeing with learning and growth and make this a fundamental part of a genuine National Care Service.

The report looks at the recent history of social work in Scotland, how it has been stripped back, fragmented and undervalued. Crucially, rather than this vision of working with  people to create a better society for all of us it shows how instead social workers are now seen as ‘firefighters’, picking up the pieces when things go wrong or enforcing  emergency action when there is an urgent need to protect vulnerable people. It argues that if instead we had ‘community social work’, embedded in communities and working with them in a care setting, it could transform so many of the social problems which blight our communities.

This is how the role of social workers and social work could become a vital and integral part of a new National Care Service – if there was the will for it.


― The role of the qualified social worker should be a vital component in the system of social care in Scotland but instead has been marginalised and its practices distorted as a result of policies and trends that have grown since the 1990s.

― Social workers are trained to assist individuals to realise their potential through helping and caring relationships, advocacy and support. However in current local authority and Health and Social Care Partnership settings social workers are instead focused on firefighting public protection duties, assessment, brokering and review functions – all of which are organised on a highly bureaucratic basis and increasingly located outside of Scotland’s communities.

― The emphasis should be on a more community-based prevention role through Community Social Work which holds potential for providing a service aimed at tackling inequalities and countering the growth of social problems in Scotland’s communities.

― Social work should be based on well-being, learning and growth and be underpinned by the idea that each person has inherent potential, is valuable, resourceful and can make a meaningful contribution to their wider community if we find ways of including them (social pedagogy). This approach would create continuity in support functions and positive relationship-based practice.

― Despite working against the odds within current statutory frameworks, many social workers provide a valued service with good outcomes for those they work with, providing examples of practice that offer hope for the future of the profession.

― A genuine National Care Service would end present service inequalities across the country and deploy social workers (as with resources more generally) where they are needed.

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