How devolution is affecting social care: Andy Jeffries, service manager, Scotland

Andy Jeffries, a service manager for children’s practice teams at Edinburgh Council, talks about his experiences.

“I have had a 20-year career in social work at Edinburgh Council in a number of posts from social worker to social work managerial jobs. I have always felt I was contributing to a system that has benefited children. I think our staff are doing a good job and I have seen lots of examples of children’s lives being improved or saved by our staff. The children’s hearing system is a good model with the welfare of the child at the centre.

“In terms of other aspects of social work with the practice teams we have made gains in family-based care and residential care.

“My previous post involved the management of residential care in Edinburgh and we have made huge improvements. It’s now more about relationships and attachment and meeting children’s needs than containment.

“We felt a huge impact from the O’Brien inquiry (this looked into the death of 11-week-old Caleb Ness in 2001 whose father was found guilty of culpable homicide.) It was critical of social work. System and communication failures in a number of child death cases have led to a greater emphasis on the integration agenda.

“The problem with policy from inquiries is you can end up over-proceduralising protection to eliminate human error and you can end up with systems that are quite cumbersome. The danger is you respond to that by having assessment processes that are a tickbox exercise or a structure for case conferences that demands that you always ask certain questions. We got into that in Edinburgh and now we are trying to unpick that.

“We restructured in 2004 (when Edinburgh Council split its children and adult social work departments and merged children’s services with education). When you are restructuring it consumes huge amounts of management time and energy and there’s an impact on staff morale in terms of uncertainty such as who is going to be my line manager at the end of this but if you can explain to staff what you are doing in the right way you can manage to keep people on board with it.

“We went through quite a difficult restructure of the children’s practice teams recently. It was partly budget driven, partly performance driven, but we were clear that we were able to make improvements and we needed to put in place a different structure to do that. That had an impact on staff morale but we have started to see that come back up again.

“The British Association of Social Workers is active in Scotland and I think the Association of Directors of Social Work does a good job as a professional body. It has links to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and membership is not constrained to directors.

“In terms of political support there’s been probably more of a focus nationally with things like the Changing Lives Review and the 21st Century Review of social work.

“In Edinburgh we have also had good political support when we were under fire in the media (at the end of January the council was on the front page of the Scottish edition of the Daily Mail for three days in a row regarding a story where two children were removed from their mother and placed for adoption with two gay men rather than their grandparents.) I was heartened by the approach the council took on that. We were supported by everybody from the chief executive and senior councillors who were making statements about the case and the good work social workers were doing. That had a good effect on morale in the council.”

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