The Big Interview: Alan Baird new Scottish ADSW chief speaks out

There is a hint of frustration in Alan Baird’s (pictured) voice when he considers what he feels is the lack of change in social services in Scotland over the past two years.

Baird, the new president of the Association of Directors of Social Work, says the impetus provided by the publication of Changing Lives – which spans social work with children and adults – in 2006 has become inertia.

The report, commissioned by the then Labour Scottish government, was the result of the 21st Century Social Work Review.

“As far as social work is concerned there has been little evidence of progress since then,” says Baird. Social work managers and directors want change and progress, as do our frontline staff. Local practitioner forums were established following the publication of Changing Lives and they have lost their way in some parts of Scotland.

“It’s been a very complex and challenging agenda. There’s been a great deal of work going on behind the scenes which needs to become visible to the social work community in Scotland – we are getting to that point. We now need to see the evidence of the last two years,” he says.

Children’s services in Scotland remain under intense pressure, with ever more young children being placed on the Child Protection register, being looked after and accommodated. The number of children neglected as a result of their parent’s chaotic drug misuse is at the root of this rise, yet resources are struggling to keep pace.

“It is therefore crucial that the resources and capacity social work, health and education do have are targeted more effectively. Building the capacity of universal services and developing their role in early intervention remains critical if we as a society are to be effective in identifying and meeting the needs of children at the right time and in the right way.”

Baird hopes the Scottish government’s soon to be published early years and drugs strategies will help address this.

“We see this a the big chance to put in place a long-term framework which will target resources more effectively to improve the life chances of the most vulnerable, disadvantaged and excluded children.

“The interface between both these strategies is crucial if we are to address the impact drug misuse has on children. Children with substance misusing parents need to be on everyone’s radar and need to be a clear priority for social work, health and education.”

As president, Baird is in the lucky position of taking the helm at an organisation with a beefed-up administration, including the appointment of three development managers. This will give the ADSW more of a “front foot” in terms of policy development.

“We feel we have been too reactive. We have 120 members, we’re a relatively small organisation but one that carries considerable weight in social work and government circles within Scotland,” he says.

Changing Lives painted a depressing picture of a service and profession under pressure, but Baird believes that perception has begun to shift, which is partly down to the Social Work Inspection Agency, set up in 2005.

“That picture is changing. We are all going through performance inspections by the SWIA. We now know where we stand in terms of the quality and range of our services. What we have now is a benchmark we didn’t have that before. We’re all able to see the reports when they’re published – all of us are able to see some of the things we need to work harder on,” he says.

Since devolution social work practice and structure in Scotland has diverged considerably from the rest of the UK. Despite this, Baird says much can be learned by authorities on both sides of the border.

He adds: “The question is not about structures, it’s about outcomes for people. I would like to have a debate with colleagues south of the border as we have many things to learn from each other.”

Baird, who is director of social work and health at Dundee Council, has been a social worker for 28 years. He says: “I believe as passionately about it now in terms of the difference it can make to people’s lives as I did in 1980.”

Further information

Changing Lives

Previous Community Care stories on Changing Lives

Recent Community Care article on social care funding in Scotland

This article appears in the 29 May issue under the headline “‘We need to get on the front foot’”

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