Briefing to Support Oral Evidence Session – 1st December 2021

Children and Families

Introduction and Context

Social Work Scotland is the national professional leadership body for the social work and social care professions in Scotland. We are led by our members, and work to influence policy and legislation and to support the development of the social work and social care workforce. Alongside organisational support, Social Work Scotland run a number of national projects around the design and implementation of policy and legislation.

Social work is defined as ‘a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work. Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing. The above definition may be amplified at national and/or regional levels.’ (Global definition of social work, International Federation of Social Workers, 2014).

As an organisation, we welcome the opportunity to engage with the work of the Education, Children and Young People Committee in relation to the impact of Covid on our children. Along with many other professions, social work has lived through the most difficult period in the history of the profession. Our support and protection for the most vulnerable in society, and drive to enable and empower children and families has been restricted and challenged. We seek to reflect in this briefing emerging themes, information and areas relating to care experienced and other disadvantaged groups with whom the social work profession is most engaged. We caveat this by noting that we remain in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, and as such, research on the impact on children and specifically those with whom we work, is as yet minimal – it remains too early to know the medium or long-term impact on children’s health wellbeing and development. Full understanding and appreciation of what this period has meant for children and young people and their families are likely only to become clear over time.

What we do know is that this has been a lengthy and traumatic period of national and worldwide insecurity. Learning from knowledge of trauma in young people and the impact of disruption in the lives of children, for example where alternative permanent care is necessary, or child protection measures have been taken, suggests that insecurity and uncertainty can influence on a lifelong basis. The Scottish GIRFEC framework provides a time-tested model within which to manage and monitor children’s wellbeing and resilience and the impact of trauma as we move out of the crisis phase of the pandemic.

The pandemic has brought with it additional stressors for many families. These range from concerns about health and additional experiences of loss to pressures resulting from caring responsibilities, competing demands and loss of support networks and social outlets. For many children and families with whom social work engage, these stressors exacerbate existing challenges, whether that be social isolation, poor socio-economic support structures or disrupted relationships. Some children entered the pandemic period having already experienced adversity. Examples are children living with domestic violence where the safety and protection of school and other social outlets was lost; children with complex needs whose support networks reduced or ceased; children in poverty where the pandemic further reduced their access to basic provision and income; care leavers whose limited networks were removed thus increasing social isolation. This underlines that a likely impact of the pandemic for some children is an increase in adverse factors and that while many services have resumed, to mitigate the effects of the pandemic will require proactive investment across many facets of society and ongoing attention to wellbeing over time.

All areas of society including the social work and care workforces have been affected, and therefore many of the above challenges and stressors above are true for elements of staff and care settings that support children. With only critical services able to be provided, the ability to respond to need, progress children’s plans and manage the basic issues such as family contact for care-experienced children were severely limited. There have been specific pressures and challenges for informal and formal carers and establishments, many of which remain in the current period. Any crisis requires resilience to face and manage the situation in a manner that allows an individual or group to exit that crisis without significant damage. As we move forward, resource, capacity, and care for the workforce to facilitate healing and mitigate current and future issues is critical.

The information in this briefing is gathered from research, national data, practice information, Chief Social Work Officer reports, and material and data from local areas, groups and our members.

Please find the full briefing paper here: SWS Briefing Education Children, Young People Committee Dec 2021 (PDF).