All change please

The perspectives of leaders within Scotland’s social care system has been reshaped by the report Changing Lives. Here, key  figures explain how services and workforce should be shaped to respond to the new agenda

Earlier this year, the Scottish executive unveiled plans for transforming the social work profession over the next five years. The programme of reform – in response to Changing Lives, the report of the 21st Century Social Work Review – outlined five key areas of work: a set of national priorities, development of paraprofessionals, a revamped continuous professional development framework, more autonomy for front-line staff and strengthening of management and leaders.

Here, we asked six leading figures from the social work sector to discuss the opportunities and challenges the programme  presents.

David Crawford, chair of the leadership and management expert group of the executive’s Changing Lives review

“The development of leadership and management frameworks are two key moves in preparing the workforce of the future. Recent reports by the Social Work Inspection Agency have reinforced the need for, and importance of, clear leadership in social work, and it is central to implementing the review.

Huge amounts of activity go into these two areas but there is currently no co-ordinated framework. There are leadership  programmes and  management courses within councils and other organisations but there appears to be a random approach to what organisations pick which programmes at which time. Nothing says “this is the best course for you at this particular time”.

We’re trying to address this by putting some structure around it. We want a range of options targeted at particular groups of staff, from middle managers to directors.

There is no shortage of activity but no overall strategy that drives that activity.

In fact, there is a huge diversity of working and organisational structures in Scotland and we need to prepare leaders for the future who can work in these, particularly around the joint working agenda. However you do it, the issue of joint working isn’t going to go away.

This isn’t something that is about social work in isolation – whatever framework is developed it will only thrive in a structure and context that encourage joint working. We need to look at it in the wider context of local government. Managers of the future won’t be managing single organisations and performing leadership roles in one dimensional organisations.”

Steven Smellie, Unison Scotland social work convenor and a member of the workforce review group

“We are encouraged by the broad support shown across the sector and politics of the job social work staff do.

However, social work has been through difficult times. Too often staff have been the scapegoats when things have gone wrong. Their working life was one of unfilled vacancies, low pay and low morale.

Changing Lives presents us with an opportunity to address these issues to ensure services that can really transform  communities. To grasp this opportunity it is important that the workforce is able to engage in debate and bring forward their ideas for the future.

For us the key issues to be addressed are the effective resourcing and support of front line workers; meaningful development of the role of social workers and occupational therapists to enable them to use their knowledge and skills to the greatest effect – supported by properly trained and rewarded support staff; access to training; and a recognised career structure and grading framework.”

Voluntary sector
Annie Gunner, director of voluntary sector umbrella body, Community Care Providers Scotland

Changing Lives has a great deal to say about professional social work, but it doesn’t stop there. It deals in a much broader sense with social work services, and that’s where some very significant voluntary sector interests come into play.

Of central importance to providers in the voluntary sector is the push for much greater ‘personalisation’ of services. Many voluntary organisations have been working to develop more individualised approaches to support for some time now, but there’s still a good way to go – could Changing Lives be the catalyst that takes us even further forward?

Increased scope for people to determine their own needs, codesign their own packages of support and exert greater control over the services they use; a much sharper focus on outcomes and the achievement of individual goals and aspirations;  services that offer support for individual decision-making – these are the central messages that voluntary organisations are taking.

How the sector can best respond to these opportunities within a system where its contribution is largely dependent on commissioning strategies and procurement processes is the big challenge.

Changing Lives is clear that many current approaches to commissioning are not fit for purpose, and that a new national approach is required.”

Skills, development and training
Carole Wilkinson, chief executive of the Scottish Social Services Council

“Although there have been developments, there is currently no recognised and coherent career framework for workers in the social services workforce. The Changing Lives report recognises this in recommending the development of career pathways to explore new roles, look at career progression and develop new and diverse opportunities.

The SSSC will lead the work on developing career pathways linked to a comprehensive framework for learning and development and career progression.

This will include progressing another key recommendation of Changing Lives by scoping and defining the potential role and qualifications for para-professional workers throughout the social service sector.

This work, alongside registration and regulation of the workforce, will enhance the image and status of the social services workforce, as it becomes recognised as regulated. It will also help ensure post-qualifying learning reflects the needs of the wider workforce and its changing nature, equipping workers to operate in a complex environment where users of services and carers quite rightly demand high quality, flexible and personalised services.”

Law, principles and politics
Eric Jackson, social work spokesperson for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities

“In implementing Changing Lives, the Scottish executive intends to agree a set of national priorities, backed by legislation. One of the first challenges will be to unravel the conflicting priorities which currently exist, many of which are themselves enshrined in legislation.

For example, how does the antisocial behaviour legislation sit with homelessness legislation, and how does all that sit with Getting It Right For Every Child and the legislation to be associated with it?

There are tough political statements, and public expectations, around dealing with antisocial behaviour but also commitments to addressing homelessness, and all too often children are caught in the cross-fire. When we add in drug-misuse and youth offending the picture becomes all the more complicated, and social workers are left finding their way through a mire of legislation.

Another theme emerging through Changing Lives and public service reform is personalisation. No one can argue against the principles – services designed to meet the needs of the individual, not agencies, with a minimum of bureaucracy.

While this fits in well with social work values, it is difficult to maintain that focus while dealing with conflicting legislative requirements in the context of limited resources. Local authorities, with their statutory responsibilities, can find themselves in a complicated position.”

Creativity in practice
Ruth Stark, professional officer for the British Association of Social Workers Scotland

“There is a change in attitude required to move from centralised services to those that are delivered locally and that allow social workers to do the job they are trained for. There are enough checks and balances in place now with regulations and inspections that they ought to be able to devolve decision-making down so that decisions are made with service users.

It is about beginning to trust people to do their job: chief social work officers and particularly middle managers need to be encouraged to trust the people they are working with. We ought to be moving from crisis-driven and defensive practice to more preventive practice.

What I’m hoping for is that we can be more imaginative and creative about how we meet people’s needs and develop more therapeutic interventions.

Some of the older social workers have the tools to do that: in the seventies we were encouraged to be creative, but there’s less of that on current training programmes. I’d like to see a reintroduction of at least one residential training placement and group work project onto today’s courses.”


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