One of the most challenging questions I asked myself in coming into my current role was, what could I contribute to help build a stronger future for the social work/social care sector in Scotland during my time as Chief Social Work Adviser? Could I help build some cohesion, common purpose and direction to a sector of incredible diversity and complexity? This at a time of probably the greatest challenges and changes we have seen in public sector services for more than a generation. I don`t need to remind you of what these challenges are in terms of resourcing, demographics and the potential impact of governance arrangements on the delivery of services.

I wish I had an easy solution to some of the challenges we all face at this time. But I am absolutely convinced Scotland needs to have a strong, competent and well trained staff to face the future. Scotland`s citizens will depend on the 200,000 workforce, social workers, social care officers, occupational therapists and Chief Social Work Officers for high quality care and protection of our most vulnerable children, adults and older people.

To help further strengthen the sector, the Social Work Services Strategic Forum was established in late 2013, bringing together Scotland`s most senior figures from across the social services sector. It was from this Forum that a shared Vision and Social Services Strategy 2015 – 2020 emerged, tackling four key areas:

  • Supporting the workforce
  • Understanding service quality and performance
  • Improving use of evidence
  • Promoting public understanding

However, the purpose of this blog is not to familiarise you with the detail, as I am sure you are now well aware of it. The Strategy is about creating a focus through which the sector can begin to see links and connections either to existing work or emerging thinking. One such example is ‘Talking, Listening to Children’ (TLC) which forms part of a four-nation research UK project funded by ESRC. It is exploring how social workers communicate with children in their everyday practice and how social workers and children involved in these encounters experience and understand them. Over the past year, Scottish Government, in particular my own office and child protection policy colleagues, have supported the work of Professor Viv Cree and Dr Fiona Morrison by joining the impact project`s Steering Group and hosting three related child protection seminars last summer. As a result, a number of important connections began to emerge, which I hope will help strengthen the current work at the University of Edinburgh.

The ‘Pride in Practice’ conference last year brought practitioners together where a combination of speakers and workshops not only identified and shared evidence based practice in Scotland and beyond, but also connected to the Communities of Practice being developed by Trisha Hall from SASW – Trisha is also a member of the Social Work Services Strategic Forum. SASW and TLC project staff are now working together to run a series of training workshops for social workers over the next few months in two local authorities in Scotland as a pilot towards developing Communities of Practice in children and families’ social work across Scotland.

Focus on practice has been a key feature during my visits to local authorities and third sector organisations, as well as frontline engagement events with practitioners over the past three years. There is a great deal to be proud of in the direct work being undertaken with children and their families, both in terms of early intervention and also with those already engaged in the formal child protection system. However a number of themes emerge:

  • In current circumstances it is not surprising that social workers do not believe they have adequate time to spend in direct work with children – believing too much of their time is spent on computers and paperwork.
  • Effective Supervision. The importance of reflective practice through regular good quality supervision is paramount.
  • Good Practice. I would add a further observation to those of frontline staff which is that we do not share our good practice as effectively as we might.

Going back to the Vision and Strategy for Social Services and the significance of connections, I hope you can begin to see the significance of the four work-strands the sector identified as critical to strengthening and professionalising the sector in Scotland. None of these stand alone. You cannot have actions aimed at supporting the workforce without having an eye on the improved use of evidence and best practice or better public understanding without taking cognisance of quality and performance. What is fundamental to all that we do is to acknowledge, value and reward best practice in Scotland. I am therefore delighted that the Forum has announced the new Scottish Social Services Awards to take place on 13 June 2017 at Crieff Hydro. In launching the new awards, Mark McDonald, Minister for Childcare and Early Years said:

“The life changing and challenging work undertaken by the people who work across our social services should not, be underestimated. This valuable work is crucial to creating a more equal and socially just Scotland. The people in this sector should be justifiably proud of the work they do.”

The ten award categories, grouped under the work-strands of the strategy, include `Bright Spark`, `Silo Buster` and `The untold story`. I hope they will inspire some of the 200,000 workforce to nominate themselves, teams or organisations. Applications close on 28 February with further details at or follow progress of nominations @SSSAwards and #SSSA17.

The awards are one of the first outcomes from the 5-year Social Services Strategy and whilst it has an action plan to take the sector up to 2020, it is also a catalyst for wider change. This includes the work by Viviene Cree and Fiona Morrison which will enhance the quality of practice in those staff working with individual children and families and sits well with the `Improving use of Evidence` strand of the Strategy.

I wish Viv and Fiona continued success with TLC.

Alan Baird,

Chief Social Work Adviser, Scottish Government

January 2017