National Care Service - social work: contextual paper

Describes the current status of social work in Scotland. It is part of a collection of papers, setting out key information about social care and related areas in Scotland linked to the development of the National Care Service.

3. Historical context

The 1968 Social Work (Scotland) Act, was a landmark piece of legislation which embedded the vision of social work as a universal, community-based service. The passing of the 1968 Act, heralded a commitment by central and local government to provide a comprehensive and community oriented social work service, focused on providing early help, working in partnership with the communities served, and prepared and empowered to act to protect the vulnerable and those in crisis[5]. It brought social work professionals from different fields of practice together within new local authority social work departments. It consolidated legislation for children and adults in need, and probation, and aimed to effect change at both an individual and community level. Almost forty years after the 1968 Act, the 2006 report, Changing Lives[6], reaffirmed the role of social work as a generic profession underpinned by knowledge, skills and values.

As the role of social work became ever more clearly defined by legislation (see Annex 2) and policy, greater formalising of frontline decision making, particularly resource management[7], emerged. This shifted the onus from social workers as therapeutic resources towards practitioners as navigators of an increasingly complex landscape in which their professional values, methods and identity were eroded. Inevitably, social workers looked for areas within an ever more bureaucratic workplace to retain identity and purpose by trying to steer courses between policy intention, management systems and professional judgement.

Whilst now over 30 years old, the 1989 White Paper and subsequent NHS and Community Care Act 1990 represented seminal moments for social work; particularly in the creation of Care Management in adult services[8]. The Act set out a number of radical steps to address a growing social security budget particularly in regard to residential care. This placed an onus on local authorities to implement enabling models to promote greater independence, opposed to an approach perceived to be based on limited service provider options. The Act introduced a purchaser-provider split with the aim of embedding an increasingly privatised market within adult social care. The focus and concentration on procuring services based on quality and price fundamentally changed firstly the market of support and secondly the role of social workers in assessing people for services. These wider forces have shaped the current social worker role over time.



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