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Following new guidance, in the form of a national framework from Public Health England, all newly qualified social workers are expected to be able to identify substance misuse. Not only that, more emphasis is placed on supporting those entering social work so that they understand why people misuse substances and its wider impact. 

Mapped against the skills needed for the professional capabilities framework (PCF), the guidance has been drawn up by Manchester Metropolitan University Professor Sarah Galvani, in consultation with the British Association of Social Workers and The College of Social Work

Whilst social workers are already knowledgeable about substance misuse, the guidance will certainly help those entering the profession. The complexities of substance misuse and the impact this has on a person’s co-dependents is particularly concerning in the UK. 

Even for those social workers in both adult and children’s services who regularly work with people with substance problems, the guidance is expected to bring clarity to exactly what their remit is and how their supervisors and managers can support them. 

The national substance misuse guidance outlines what social workers at every stage of their career should know, which given the breadth of experience and diverse situations they face, is a tough order.

In recognising this, the guidance identifies three key roles and related professional capabilities for social workers and their managers:

  • To engage with substance misuse as part of their role
  • To motivate people to change their behaviours
  • To support people to maintain those changes

Emphasis is also placed on assessing an individual sensitively, and working in partnership with them and their loved ones to prevent a relapse. 

As reported in Community Care, Annie Hudson, Chief executive of The College of Social Work, comments:

“Substance use is one of the areas that cuts across all areas of social work practice and is often part of the complex needs of the individuals and families that social workers support.This document will reinforce the College’s work to ensure social work education and training provides social workers with the tools to do their job well.”


It’s good news that the guidance has now been published; it’s been waiting in the wings for some time and unfortunately substance misuse is becoming not only more prevalent but more complex. 

We agree with the foreword in the guidance that ‘social work is both a rewarding and demanding job’ and that for social workers to their jobs to specific standards ‘clarity about what those roles are and the support of managers to fulfil them’ is absolutely needed.

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