Mental health officer wins Scotland’s Social Worker of the Year

Mental health social worker Sandy Watt was the big winner at the Scottish Association of Social Work’s (SASW’s) annual awards in Perth, taking the top prize for his 20 years as a “model professional”. The North Lanarkshire mental health officer and practice teacher was described as “skilled, courteous, ethical and effective” in working with a range of people with significant mental health challenges.

The Perth Concert Hall reception was attended by the minister for children and early years Aileen Campbell, undertaking her first social work engagement since being appointed to the role in December.

Other winners on the night were Pauline Seth, who picked up the Residential Social Worker prize and the Student Social Worker of the Year, Sheila Hagney.

Ms Seth was recognised for her work with the Penumbra ARBD (alcohol brain damaged) Service in Glasgow. Nominating her for the award her colleagues described her as “inspirational”, demonstrating “strong leadership in a very complex area of work”.The citation said “the people who are supported by Pauline speak of her great personality and the ease with which they can raise any problems with her”.

Sheila Hagney, who studies at the University of West of Scotland, won a very competitive student category for her practice placement in a criminal justice team working with offenders. Her nominees described how Sheila “had to show effective understanding of complex issues in working across professional boundaries, working with children and families workers in safeguarding a child. This is working at the sharp end of social work and her persistence paid off in keeping a child safe.”

Ms Hagney emerged successful from a shortlist of seven nominees, comprising Stirling University students Fiona Wallace, Natasha Weir, Suzanne McGuiness and Susan Coyle, and two trainee practitioners from Caledonian University, Nicole Cahill and Helen Patterson.

Shortlisted for the Residential Social Worker award were Isobel Black, who works with older people in East Kilbride, Wendy Stubbs, employed at Alkeval, a home for three people with complex needs, and Janet Hallyburton for her work at Alba Place, Aberlour’s service for children and young people with severe learning disabilities and complex physical and health needs.

Winning the overall Social Worker of the Year category Sandy Watt fended off the strong claims of runner up Michael Adair for his work at Epilepsy Scotland – described by nominees as having a “hard-wired, warm and positive regard for all people”.

Announcing Mr Watt’s award, SASW manager Ruth Stark cited three examples of his work with service users, including a 40-year-old man, described as a previously ‘restricted person’, who had led a very troubled life including a period in the State Hospital. Ms Stark said Mr Watt had helped the man to live “a rich life in the community”, having subsequently studied at college, secured a job and restored contact with his family.

The minister Aileen Campbell commended all the nominees for their success and praised the social work profession for its contribution to society, describing it as ”truly life changing work and one of the most demanding and complex tasks that society asks any group of people to do on our behalf”.

Commenting on the current economic climate Ms Campbell said she recognised the pressures on social workers and the people who use their services but suggested the financial difficulties also offered an opportunity. “How we might be doing things differently to deliver even better outcomes for people? How we can build the capacity of individuals, families and communities to better look after themselves and each other, to improve their life chances; and how we can deliver improvements and make best use of our key resource – you, your colleagues, your managers – and others who help to provide services and support people and communities.”

An additional prize category, the Kay Carmichael Travel Award sponsored by the Association of Directors of Social Work (ADSW), went to Anne Beattie for research she undertook into innovative child protection services in Western Australia. She is now sharing her insight into the successes she witnessed while observing Australian practitioners with colleagues in Scotland.

View the full list and description of all the nominees