Smiling social worker

Social work

Social work is a vast and complex form of practice and intervention which sits alongside and is inter-connected to the even broader sphere of social care.

The relationship between the two is important to understand. Horner states that:

Social care – which includes such activities as caring for older people in a residential care home, or working in a day care setting with people with learning difficulties – generates generally positive images, allied as it is to other caring professions, such as nursing.

(This quote highlights the important fact that social care and social work are not concerned solely with children and young people.)

By comparison social work can often struggle to create and maintain a positive public image. Horner describes it as a controversial business which attracts outcry when they get things ‘wrong’ but little attention when they get things ‘right’.

The role and duties of social work services aimed at children and young people and their families are derived from legislation. In Scotland there are various pieces of legislation. Some of the most significant are the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 and the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014.

Social workers involved in the care of vulnerable children and young people have a number of mandatory duties and responsibilities stemming from the legislation. Assessment of risk and need is arguably, in the current climate and context, the number one priority. In week one of the course we listened to to Gordon Main of CELCIS reflect upon how social work services for children, in the light of high profile child protection cases such as Victoria Climbié, have pushed services away from community and relationship based social work into more formalised procedures.

This raises and creates a number of questions and challenges for social work services. As highlighted in week one, there are questions about the degree to which society is prepared to tolerate and accept ‘interference’ from services designed to protect children experiencing vulnerability and risk. Additionally, high workloads, a case manager approach and notions of ‘professional’ boundaries can be seen to prevent social workers from spending quality time with children and young people to form the depth of relationships which characterises other professions and philosophies of care – such as child and youth care, social pedagogy, youth work and residential child care. This in turn raises questions about the desired role of children and families social work services.

The sources listed in the ‘see also’ section below were used when creating this week’s materials - you can consult them for more information on the topic.

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This article is from the free online course:

Caring for Vulnerable Children

University of Strathclyde