The 'people' people : the many roles and relationships of social workers

Milligan, Ian; Bryce, Tom and Humes, Walter and Gillies, Donald and Kennedy, Aileen, eds. (2018) The 'people' people : the many roles and relationships of social workers. In: Scottish Education. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, pp. 728-738.

[thumbnail of Milligan-SE-2018-The-people-people-the-many-roles-and-relationships-of-social-workers]
Text. Filename: Milligan_SE_2018_The_people_people_the_many_roles_and_relationships_of_social_workers.pdf
Accepted Author Manuscript

Download (410kB)| Preview


This chapter will offer an introduction to the social work profession and an overview of some key principles and factors that shape social work practice – ‘a controversial business’ (Horner, 2012, p. 2). Social work is controversial perhaps because it involves highly sensi¬tive areas of work and the exercise of power, such as intervening in family life to protect children, providing reports for Courts and Children’s Hearings, or assessing people who want to foster or adopt. Making recommendations or decisions in these circumstances is difficult, not least because social workers have to continue to deal with those who may be unhappy or critical of their findings. Indeed, accord¬ing to Horner, social work ‘inevitably attracts opprobrium’ because of its location ‘at the interface between the rights of the individual and the responsibilities of the state towards its citizens’ (Horner, 2012, p. 2). It is widely accepted that social work as a whole is complex and challenging: ‘Social workers undertake some of the most demanding tasks society asks of any group of staff . . . Over many years, society has come to expect more of social work and has asked social work to do more’ (Scottish Executive, 2006, p. 1). So this chapter is written in order to promote inter-professional understanding; to help other professionals, especially education personnel, understand how social workers approach their work. Particular emphasis will be given to the relationship-based nature of professional social work. Social workers undertake their work through building relationships with the ‘service users’ they work with, and working with other professionals is also an important part of the job. In broad terms, social work is required to carry out two contrasting types of func¬tion: personal support and advocacy (the care function) on the one hand and ‘social control’ (the protection function) on the other: ‘What is apparent is that society expects social workers – and their colleagues engaged in the broader related field of social care – to both protect and care for those citizens deemed in need of such protection and care’ (Horner, 2012, p. 7).


Milligan, Ian ORCID logoORCID:; Bryce, Tom, Humes, Walter, Gillies, Donald and Kennedy, Aileen