Social workers to face return to practice requirements in Scotland

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Qualified social workers who have been out of practice for at least two years will face minimum learning requirements if they want to rejoin the register in Scotland.

Regulator the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) has launched a consultation on introducing return to practice requirements similar to those in England and Wales.

Under the plans, a person who had been out of social work practice and not on the SSSC register for two to five years would need to have completed a minimum of 180 hours of learning within the 12 months before applying to rejoin the register.

The requirement would go up to a minimum of 360 hours for anyone who had been out of practice for more than five years.

Learning requirements

The SSSC said it would accept formal learning, informal learning and supervised practice – where the person’s work is overseen by a registered social worker – in any application to rejoin the register.

However, no more than half the requirement could be met through informal learning, under the SSSC’s proposals. It also indicated that at least a third would have to be in the form of supervised practice.

The SSSC is also proposing that applicants must demonstrate that they have carried out learning, or supervised practice, across all four of the following themes: current legislation and policy; adult and child protection; the key codes and standards for practice, and social work skills, knowledge, understanding and practice.

Currently, practitioners in Scotland do not face any return to practice requirements and must simply fulfil continuous professional learning (CPL) requirements on rejoining the register.

Continuous professional learning reforms

Currently, these are for social workers to complete 15 days’ CPL during the current three-year registration period, five of which must involve working effectively with colleagues to identify, assess and manage risk to vulnerable groups.

There are more stringent requirements for newly qualified social workers (NQSWs), who must do 24 days’ CPL in their first year – five of which must relate to protecting children or adults from harm – followed by 10 days in their second and third years of practice.

However, the SSSC is separately consulting on reforming CPL to remove time-based requirements in place of registrants making an annual declaration saying that they have met eight core learning requirements. These are:

  • Ethics, values and rights-based practice;
  • Communication, engagement and relationship-based professional practice;
  • Critical thinking, professional judgement and decision making;
  • Promoting wellbeing, support and protection;
  • Working with complexity in unpredictable and ambiguous contexts;
  • Use of knowledge, research and evidence in practice;
  • Self-awareness and reflexivity;
  • Professional leadership.

Supported year for NQSWs

There would also be new requirements for NQSWs to accompany the rollout next year of the supported year in practice, which is designed to help new practitioners transition into the workplace.

This will involve NQSWs having a protected caseload and protected learning time, peer support and mentoring, supervision at least once every four weeks and continuous learning opportunities.

The CPL and return to practice proposals flow from an SSSC consultation last year on reforming the regulation of social care professionals in Scotland.

As part of this, the current cycle of three-yearly or five-yearly renewal of registration, depending on a person’s role, will be replaced by staff making an annual declaration, paying a fee at the same time.

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