The role of the Chief Social Work Officer

Guidance for local authorities regarding the role of the Chief Social Work Officer.

The Chief Social Work Officer Role


9. The CSWO role was established to ensure the provision of appropriate professional advice in the discharge of a local authority's statutory functions as described in paragraph 6. The role also has a place set out in integrated arrangements brought in through the 2014 Act. As a matter of good practice it is expected that the CSWO will undertake the role across the full range of a local authority's social work functions to provide a focus for professional leadership and governance in regard to these functions.

10. The CSWO should assist local authorities and their partners in understanding the complexities and cross-cutting nature of social work service delivery - including in relation to particular issues such as corporate parenting, child protection, adult protection and the management of high risk offenders - and also the key role social work plays in contributing to the achievement of a wide range of national and local outcomes. The CSWO also has a contribution to make in supporting overall performance improvement and management of corporate risk.

11. It is for local authorities to determine the reporting and management structures that best meet their needs. Where the CSWO is not a full member of the senior management team or equivalent, elected members must satisfy themselves that the officer has appropriate access and influence at the most senior level and is supported to deliver the complex role described in this guidance.


12. Scottish Ministers' requirement is that the CSWO role will be held by a person who is qualified as a social worker and registered as such with the Scottish Social Services Council. Local authorities will also want to require this as they will need to ensure that the CSWO:

  • can demonstrate extensive experience at a senior level of both operational and strategic management of social work and social care services and;
  • has the competence and confidence required to provide effective professional advice at all levels within the organisation and with the full range of partner organisations
  • receives effective induction to support them in full delivery of their role

( NB At the time of writing, SI 1996/515, which sets out minimum qualifications for a CSWO is being reviewed with a view to amendment so that the social work degree is specifically included.)

13. Further information on the skills and competencies required of a CSWO is available in the Standard for Chief Social Work Officers (issued by the Scottish Social Services Council in July 2015) which underpins the Level 11 Award for CSWOs which was launched in August 2015 as a further professional accredited qualification aimed at enhancing CSWO competence.


14. The scope of the role relates to the functions outlined in paragraph 6 whether provided directly by the local authority; through delegation to another statutory body or in partnership with other agencies. Where social work services and support are commissioned on behalf of the authority, including from the independent and voluntary sector, the CSWO has a responsibility to advise on the specification, quality and standards of the commissioned services and support. The CSWO also has a role in providing professional advice and guidance to an Integration Joint Board or NHS Board to which social work functions have been formally delegated.

Responsibility for values and standards

15. The CSWO should:

(a) promote values and standards of professional practice, including all relevant national Standards and Guidance, and ensure adherence with the Codes of Practice issued by the Scottish Social Services Council for social service employers.

(b) work with Human Resources (or equivalent function) and responsible senior managers to ensure that all social service workers practice in line with the SSSC's Code of Practice and that all registered social service workers meet the requirements of the regulatory body;

(c) establish a Practice Governance Group or link with relevant Clinical and Care Governance arrangements designed to support and advise managers in maintaining and developing high standards of practice and supervision in line with relevant guidance, including, for example, - the Practice Governance Framework: Responsibility and Accountability in Social Work Practice ( SG 2011);

(d) ensure that the values and standards of professional practice are communicated on a regular basis and adhered to and that local guidance is reviewed and updated periodically.

16. The CSWO must be empowered and enabled to provide professional advice and contribute to decision-making in the local authority and health and social care partnership arrangements, raising issues of concern with the local authority Elected Members or Chief Executive, or the Chief Officer of the Integration Joint Board as appropriate (or the Chief Executive of a Health Board if appropriate in the context of a lead agency model), in regard to:

(a) effective governance arrangements for the management of the complex balance of need, risk and civil liberties, in accordance with professional standards.

(b) appropriate systems required to 1) promote continuous improvement and 2) identify and address weak and poor practice.

(c) the development and monitoring of implementation of appropriate care governance arrangements;

(d) approaches in place for learning from critical incidents, which could include through facilitation of local authority involvement in the work of Child Protection Committees, Adult Support and Protection Committees and Offender Management Committees where that will result in the necessary learning within local authorities taking place;

(e) requirements that only registered social workers undertake those functions reserved in legislation or are accountable for those functions described in guidance;

(f) workforce planning and quality assurance, including safe recruitment practice, probation/mentoring arrangements, managing poor performance and promoting continuous learning and development for staff;

(g) continuous improvement, raising standards and evidence-informed good practice, including the development of person-centred services that are focussed on the needs of people who use services and support;

(h) the provision and quality of practice learning experiences for social work students and effective workplace assessment arrangements, in accordance with the SSSC Code of Practice for Employers of Social Service Workers;


17. There are a small number of areas of decision-making where legislation confers functions directly on the CSWO by name. These areas relate primarily to the curtailment of individual freedom and the protection of both individuals and the public. Such decisions must be made either by the CSWO or by a professionally qualified social worker, at an appropriate level of seniority, to whom the responsibility has been formally delegated and set out within local authority arrangements. Even where responsibility has been delegated, the CSWO retains overall responsibility for ensuring quality and oversight of the decisions. These areas include:

  • deciding whether to implement a secure accommodation authorisation in relation to a child (with the consent of a head of the secure accommodation), reviewing such placements and removing a child from secure accommodation if appropriate;
  • the transfer of a child subject to a Supervision Order in cases of urgent necessity;
  • acting as guardian to an adult with incapacity where the guardianship functions relate to the personal welfare of the adult and no other suitable individual has consented to be appointed;
  • decisions associated with the management of drug treatment and testing orders
  • carrying out functions as the appropriate authority in relation to a breach of a supervised release order, or to appoint someone to carry out these functions.

18. In addition to these specific areas where legislation confers functions on all CSWOs, there will be a much larger number of areas of decision-making which have been assigned by individual local authorities to Chief Social Work Officers reflecting

" the particular responsibilities which fall on social work services in that they affect personal lives, individual rights and liberties to an extent that other local authority services do not" noted in paragraph 7. These areas may include responsibilities assigned through guidance or other routes. For example:

  • the 2014 guidance on Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements ( MAPPA) makes explicit reference to the role of the CSWO in responsibility for joint arrangements, in co-operation with other authorities.
  • although mental health services are delegated to Integration Joint Boards, some of these functions require to be carried out by local authority officers with a social work qualification (Mental Health Officers). Local authorities will want to be reassured via the CSWO that these functions are discharged in accordance with professional standards and statutory requirements

It is for each local authority to make transparent which additional specific areas of responsibility in regard to their social work functions they have assigned to their CSWO


19. The CSWO is responsible for providing professional leadership for social workers and staff in social work services. The CSWO should:

(a) support and contribute to evidence-informed decision making and practice - at professional and corporate level - by providing appropriate professional advice;

(b) seek to enhance professional leadership and accountability throughout the organisation to support the quality of service and delivery;

(c) support the delivery of social work's contribution to achieving local and national outcomes;

(d) promote partnership working across professions and all agencies to support the delivery of integrated services;

(e) promote social work values across corporate agendas and partner agencies.

The CSWO role in the context of partnerships and integration

20. In the context of Health and Social Care Integration and the 2014 Act, the CSWO is required to be appointed as a non-voting member of the Integration Joint Board ( IJB) (or, in lead agency models, the Integration Joint Monitoring Committee). Scottish Ministers are strongly of the view that the influence of high quality professional leaders in the integrated arrangements is central to the effectiveness of improving the quality of care locally and nationally.

21. The CSWO also has a defined role in professional and clinical and care leadership and has a key role to play in Clinical and Care Governance systems which support the work of the Integration Joint Board, as set out in the partnership Integration Schemes and relevant guidance.

22. The local authority should ensure that appropriate arrangements are in place to include the CSWO in relevant strategic and operational forums that provide direct access to the Chief Executive and elected members so that the CSWO is in an optimum position to support and advise them in regard to their social work function responsibilities in their partnership contexts.


23. The CSWO has a role in reporting to the local authority Chief Executive, elected members and IJBs - providing comment on issues which may identify risk to safety of vulnerable people or impact on the social work service and also on the findings of relevant service quality and performance reports, setting out:

  • implications for the local authority, for the IJB, for services, for people who use services and support and carers, for individual teams/members of staff/partners as appropriate;
  • implications for delivery of national and local outcomes;
  • proposals for remedial action;
  • means for sharing good practice and learning;
  • monitoring and reporting arrangements for identified improvement activity.

24. The CSWO should also produce and publish a summary annual report for local authorities and IJBs on the functions of the CSWO role and delivery of the local authority's social work services functions (however these are organised or delivered). A template for this report is available from by the Office of the Chief Social Work Adviser, Scottish Government.


Email: Jane MacKenzie

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