Social workers have described feeling “belittled” by the trained volunteers who make decisions about the care of vulnerable children as a report laid bare the pressures of the job.

Senior staff said there was a need for an improved understanding of the demands of the role within the Children’s Hearings System.

One team manager said there was a tendency to “belittle” social work staff in hearings, which had become “increasingly litigious” and described the effect on staff as “morale crushing.”

She said this was at least partly associated with a lack of understanding of the circumstances in which social workers are trying to support families, particularly in the current context of “severe restrictions” on services.

Children’s hearings began operating on April 15, 1971, taking over from the courts the responsibility for dealing with children and young people who are at risk or who have committed alleged offences – which now make up a small minority of cases.

READ MORE: Children's hearings leader hits back after 'poorly trained volunteers' slur 

Panel members read reports on families put together by social workers on cases ahead of hearings when they are given the opportunity to question staff about the management of cases.

The system is facing a major overhaul following an independent review which heard from thousands of children, young people, families and the paid and unpaid workforce about the Children’s Hearings System. 

Social Work Scotland invited 29 employees from across the country to share their experiences of the job during focus group meetings.

It follows a report published earlier this year which found the role and contribution of social workers is not well understood outside of the profession.

One social worker told of the pressure of receiving complaints from MSPs or councillors representing families.

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They said: “I’ve no other word to use, but it is an insult to workers and team leaders.

“What is really frustrating is maybe even if these individuals spent one hour in one of our services, they would understand why we cannot get those care packages, those supports in place.”

Focus group participants told of being “conditioned for stress“ at different stages of their career, often starting in the university and in placements and said some students were coming into the job with a “terror of children and families work.”

The media was singled out for “ reinforcing negative stereotypes about social workers”.

READ MORE: Fewer newborns removed from parents in Scotland than England 'raises questions' 

One employee said: “I get really annoyed when I watch things on TV that have a social worker bumbling around with bits of paper flying everywhere, being really quite incompetent looking”

A spokeswoman for Children’s Hearings Scotland said: “As this report highlights, Social Workers and Panel Members are working in a system facing acute pressures. 

“We recognise that hearings by their nature can be difficult and challenging. 

“Both Panel Members and Social Workers are committed to making positive progress to ensure that infants, children and young people secure good outcomes.

“Over the last year, the Hearings System Working Group (HSWG), which is chaired by Sheriff David Mackie, sought feedback from all key partner agencies on the significant reform of the Children’s Hearings System. 

“This work carries forward the shared aim of securing better outcomes for infants, children and young people.

"The HSWG will publish its recommendations in April 2023.”

Ben Farrugia, Director of Social Work Scotland said: “At a time when we hear so much about crisis, social workers are continuing to make a positive difference on a day-to-day basis.

"The more we can help the profession, the more they can assist families and individuals in need of support.”