Sixty Second Interview with Sandy Cameron
By Maria Ahmed
Professor Sandy Cameron CBE, Scotland’s longest-serving director of social work, has announced that he is moving on from local government after 18 years to become the new chair of the Parole Board for Scotland.
You have seen social work change over two decades. During that time, you have been president of the Association of Directors of Social Work and also chaired the performance improvement sub group of the 21st century review of social work in Scotland. What are the key challenges facing the profession in Scotland now and for the future?
There is no aspect of service I can point to where there is a diminishing demand or diminishing cost. A growing challenge is meeting that demand within the constraints of resources both human and financial that are unlikely to be able to keep pace in terms of growth.
The work on performance improvement which I have been leading on for the 21st Century Review is particularly important therefore since it will help focus on outcomes and enable frontline staff to engage with innovation to make best use of their resources.
Perhaps the most significant changes over the decades have been the much greater emphasis we now give to the voice of service users and carers, and secondly, the integration of services with health, education, housing and the independent sector. These are very positive changes provided we hold on to the specific role and value base which social work and social care has as its foundation.
Less positive has been the erosion of the importance of strong professional leadership. I believe that the 21st Century Review gives us an opportunity to strengthen that leadership again.
What have been your most difficult times and most memorable achievements in your career so far?
The role of director means that you often have to deal with difficult and sometimes unpleasant situations. However, I consider myself fortunate to be able to say that there has never been a day that I have not had satisfaction from what I do and I recognise that as a rare privilege in a working life. I do genuinely believe that being a director of social work is one of the best jobs you can have.
Throughout my career I have had the opportunity to develop and improve services from the introduction of the first community alarm service in Central region in 1979 to leading the major capital investment programme which continues in South Lanarkshire.
We have been able to work with designers to create buildings for every client group which set new standards of dignity and integration for service users. One of my greatest satisfactions in recent times has been to hear of the delight of both users and carers with the services they are receiving in these new facilities. They also provide first workplaces for our staff who all too often in the past have had to work in appalling premises.
The opportunity I had to contribute to the introduction of the regulatory frameworks for services and the workforce was another chance I had to be involved in something which I believe will make a very significant difference in the years to come.
You have been very involved in training for social workers in your roles as Visiting Professor of Social Work at the University of Strathclyde and as the independent chair of the Scottish Institute for Excellence in Social Work Education. How has social work training in Scotland evolved since you first trained, and what are your current concerns?
The major challenge in social work training is to improve they way that students learn their practice skills. The practice learning centre which we are developing in South Lanarkshire with the Glasgow School of Social Work is an attempt to build much stronger links with university colleagues and our teachers of practice.
The Scottish Institute for excellence in Social Work Education uniquely brings all of our universities in Scotland together to develop our education resources. The very rapid progress it has made to date is something which can only be good for social work in the future.
You are going to be the chair of the Parole Board. In your view, is there enough joined-up thinking between social work and the criminal justice system in Scotland? How do you hope to bring your social work experience to bear on your new role?
I am looking forward to taking up my new responsibilities as chair of the Parole Board for Scotland. There will be some significant changes over the next year with the introduction of the Community Justice Authorities. My experience means that I should be well-placed in my new role to ensure the continuity and development of the key role social workers have in Scotland’s parole system. The CJAs must mean that services across the criminal justice sector do become more joined up but we need to ensure that important linkages with child care, housing and mental health are not weakened.
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