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National Social Work Agency a gamechanger for Scotland, says cabinet secretary

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The planned National Social Work Agency for Scotland will play a key role in improving working conditions for social workers, a member of the Scottish Parliament has said.

Angela Constance, cabinet secretary for justice and home affairs, said she wanted the agency to have “teeth” to push reform and ensure the voice of the profession is heard.

The National Social Work Agency is part of Scotland’s ambitious bid to create a National Care Service providing more consistent care and support across the country.

The new agency will be in charge of workforce planning, pay grades, terms and conditions, the training and development of social workers, and social work qualifications.

Speaking at the Scottish Association of Social Work’s 2023 conference, Constance said: “The National Social Work Agency will be a key opportunity to put the social back into social work and, crucially, to support and empower you as social workers.”

Constance highlighted a recent study by CELCIS, the Centre for Excellence for Children’s Care and Protection, commissioned by the Scottish government, capturing the views of social workers in children’s services.

She said: “A quote from a social worker really struck me when they said, ‘Individual practice can be as good as you like, but when it is in a very flawed system, the overall perception of the profession will be poor’.

“That’s where the agency comes in. It will be an opportunity to fix the system, to recognise the value of the profession, our ethics and approach, and all of you who work in it. It will champion social work and make the voices of social workers heard. 

“My ambition is to raise the status of and ensure investment in the social work profession. I want the agency to have teeth, to have powers to drive change and to drive improvements for all social workers.”

Constance said the agency would work with partners to “create the conditions to grow and support the workforce”. It would also “promote workforce wellbeing and create a listening leadership culture with a clear vision for social work”.

She highlighted inequalities across the workforce ,with difficulties filling posts and lack of competitive pay. 

Demand for services is increasing “year-on-year” she said, as is the complexity of cases.

To ensure the future of the profession, Constance promised investment in supporting student social workers. Her pledge follows a campaign by the Social Workers Union and the Campaign Collective highlighting financial hardships experienced by students not receiving bursaries on third and fourth year placements.

She said: “We recognise the importance of providing appropriate financial support to social work students. Currently there are various strands exploring how best to reform the financial support package available.

“As a first step, from the 2024 to 2025 academic year postgraduate students who are not eligible to receive a Scottish Social Services Council bursary will be able to apply for the postgraduate funding package administered by the student awards agency Scotland.”

She added: “We also want to create a strategic framework to support social workers and their employers from qualifying education onwards.”

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