‘Flagship policy is in disarray’

David Crawford, the new head of Scotland’s social work directors’ body, tells Derren Hayes that free personal care and child protection are key challenges for the year ahead

David Crawford, the new president of the Association of Directors of Social Work, began his tenure in controversial fashion this month by questioning the quality of the fast-track social work training schemes in Scotland (New president accuses fast-track courses of failing to prime students for the front line, 18 May).

Speaking at the ADSW’s annual conference in Crieff, he warned that fast-track courses – a Scottish executive policy designed to quickly swell the number of social work recruits – were not preparing graduates for the rigours of front-line practice as well as degree programmes were.

His comments marked the beginning of what promises to be a challenging year for the association and social work in general in Scotland.

Crawford, director of social work at Renfrewshire Council, could have been forgiven for thinking 2006 would be a year for taking stock following the upheaval of the previous one with its focus on the 21st Century Social Work Review. But he identifies implementing the review’s findings, the expected reorganisation of local government and ironing out inconsistencies in the free personal care policy as key challenges.

Child protection will also be a major theme during his presidency, he says, given first minister Jack McConnell’s call for social workers to take a tougher line with drug misusing parents. “There’s a clear concern about parental drug misuse and it’s good the first minister is talking about it,” he says. “But it’s a question of how we use his influence.”

Ministers have warned social workers are too eager to keep families together where one or both parents misuse drugs and that the “pendulum needs to move back to the centre”. But Crawford says this is too simple.

“Keeping families together is the basis of the [Children (Scotland) Act 1995] but it’s not what’s been happening. In reality, social workers have to make a decision based on the individual circumstances; children have been going onto the child protection register and living with their extended families. It seems to me the policy is only catching up with the practice,” he says.

And he warns taking more children into care is no panacea.

“It simply changes one set of risks for another: simple popular statements like that don’t help. There needs to be a mature debate about where we are going and if we’re funded to provide it.”

The funding of children’s services is a major concern for Crawford. With demand only likely to grow and resources already stretched, ADSW has commissioned an independent review of funding across the country’s 32 children’s services departments.

“We don’t think we’ve been funded to meet the explosion in demand over the past few years and hope the research will prove this,” he adds.

On adults’ services, Crawford says there is an urgent need for the executive to resolve the uncertainty about what authorities can and cannot charge for under free personal care.

“This flagship policy is almost in disarraybecause we can’t get a clear definition of what we’re supposed to do. Confusion among the public and organisations is widespread – this impasse is not on.”

In the longer term, ADSW will have a role in shaping how social work departments are organised and function as a result of the 21st Century Review and potential changes to the structure of local government.

Crawford is pleased the review did not recommend wholesale structural change, but warns its recommendations still pose significant challenges.

“The devil is in the detail: it’s easy to say we must implement a culture of continuous improvement and an agreed performance framework but [doing] that is a huge process. Because we haven’t gone for organisational solutions we’re given a complex matrix of things that are required to be done,” he says.

Crawford, like many people, believes a restructuring of Scottish local government is imminent, probably taking place soon after next year’s local elections. It is likely to lead to a cut in the number of councils, but Crawford believes this could strengthen social work’s influence.

“Since the last reorganisation social work has lost out in strategic importance. If we were to have 15 councils I think that would be a good thing,” he says.

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