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Scottish Association of Social Work pens open letter to Scottish Government

Today, we issued the below letter to Jeane Freeman MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport and Maree Todd MSP, Minister for Children and Young People, calling for urgent clarity and support from the Scottish Government on the points below, on behalf of our members. We will keep members informed once we receive a response. 


Dear Jeane Freeman MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Health & Sport

          Maree Todd MSP, Minister for Children & Young People 


Social workers across Scotland are facing the immense challenge of trying to maintain the vital support they deliver to vulnerable children and adults during the coronavirus crisis.

More than 1,200 social workers to date have provided feedback on their experiences and concerns in a UK wide survey from the British Association of Social Workers. In light of this, as a matter of urgency, we appeal to you to provide clarity and support on the following points:

1) Without exception, social workers must be provided with appropriate PPE to use when carrying out non-deferrable child and adult protection home visits. Social workers must have access to hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment (PPE) Many are concerned for the health and wellbeing of people that use services, as well as themselves and their loved ones. Social workers across the country are reporting resorting to making their own ‘DIY Protection Kits’ for home visits, including thermal flasks, water bowls and soap. There needs to be universal access, and information about where to access, suitable amounts of PPE. Social workers, as with other front-line staff, should not be expected to carry out face to face duties without it.

2) Clear and consistent guidance on protecting and upholding human rights during the pandemic crisis. Many social workers are worried about how to carry out statutory duties in the face of mass isolation. They are concerned about the increase of abuse, neglect and mental ill health, and of trying to safeguard people through remote working and video calls. There are also significant concerns of human rights being breached when services are operating in an emergency – and soon under emergency legislation which strips back key duties, in particular, temporary amendments to the Mental Health Care and Treatment (Scotland) Act 2003 and Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995. These worries must be addressed, with clear and consistent guidance to support social workers while they support others.

3) Consistent protocols and resources for safe work in all contexts, including home visits and community. Whilst we accept that local authorities operate autonomously according to the specific needs in their area, we are aware of inconsistent approaches to home working and access to resources and protocols across Scotland. During this crisis, a consistent approach to safety, access to resources and guidance is necessary for social workers to carry out their job safely and effectively. This includes what is deemed essential and non-essential work and how to work flexibly.

4) Social workers are key workers and their children, as with the children of other key workers, must be looked after to allow them to continue to do their jobs. Social workers in some local authorities have been deemed Category 2 ‘Key Workers’, although it has been left up to individual local authorities to decide whether they agree with that status. Some workers are still awaiting confirmation of their status, as there is no uniformity to categorisation. Social workers provide an essential service every day in terms of social justice and protection and are dedicated to continuing to provide this throughout the crisis. Their children, as with other key workers, must be looked after whilst they carry out vital work across Scotland.

5) Clear implications for regulation of social work and temporary registration. Social workers need to know the implications for registration if they are unable to meet duties, timescales or legal compliances during this crisis. Temporary registration, particularly of social work students, has been activated, but there must be clear safeguards in place to ensure clear lines of accountability and access to appropriate support. Consideration should be given to the types of cases allocated to students who find themselves temporarily registered, with those that are high risk or complex given to those who are more experienced.


We do not doubt the concerns of our members are shared by the Scottish Government and trust that action and a response will be advanced as a priority, to ensure the risk to social workers and vulnerable children and adults is minimised.


Yours Faithfully,


Alistair Brown, National Director, Scottish Association of Social Work

Shirley Melvin, Chair, National Standing Committee, Scottish Association of Social Work

Further information