Research: User satisfaction with social work in Scotland

Many people in Scotland are satisfied with social work responses, but serious deficiencies remain in support for carers. Michelle Drumm reports

Many people in Scotland are satisfied with social work responses, but serious deficiencies remain in support for carers. Michelle Drumm reports

(Glasgow pic: Alamy)


KEY WORDS: Inspections  Standards  Scotland  Performance

Title: Improving social work in Scotland: a report on the Social Work Inspection Agency’s Performance Inspection Programme 2005-9

Published by: Social Work Inspection Agency (SWIA), 2010, 145 pages,

Aim: To describe how well social work services are performing and what people who use services think about them.

Methodology: Each council evaluated itself against 10 key areas as part of the SWIA inspection framework. For each inspection, case files were read, surveys and interviews conducted, focus groups arranged and practice observed.

Conclusion: While satisfaction with social services was generally high, levels of service delivery and quality varied across local authorities. The report highlights areas where improvements were needed such as dementia care, looked-after children, and supervision of violent offenders. There were serious deficiencies in assessing the needs of carers, and carer and service user involvement needed to be improved.


This report aims to provide a high-level overview of the findings from the full round of performance inspections of social work services undertaken from 2005 to 2009. It examines services for adults, children and families, criminal justice and carers.

The later chapters report on workforce, strategic commissioning, leadership and resourcing of services, and managing and improving performance.

As well as reporting on general social work inspections, findings are also drawn from service-specific inspections.


Variability of provision and funding of services was found at all 32 councils, and higher council funding levels did not always result in better service provision.

In terms of services for adults and older people, users of services were generally not playing an active role in the type of care and support they received. Increasing people’s choice and adopting personalised approaches were identified as key to improving outcomes in the report; however, no evidence of the impact that self-directed support has had on outcomes was available. The national self-directed support strategy includes a plan to measure outcomes by 2012.

Based on 1,000 responses from older people and 2,500 from other adults, 77% of adults surveyed felt that social work services had made a positive difference to their lives. Older people were most positive about outcomes, with collaboration between local agencies to promote well-being and self-care highlighted as good practice.

People with substance misuse problems were the least positive about outcomes. The report said some “were unwilling recipients of social work services which could be as a result of child care concerns or as a condition of a court order”.

Older people

Older people were the largest group receiving adult services, with a wide difference in levels of spend between councils (relative to older population figures). The increasing number of older people, of course, has implications for future demand on adult services. It is predicted that some councils may see increases of 60% in older populations between 2008 and 2018.

Despite the growing recognition of the role of unpaid carers in social services and the introduction of legislation to support them, this group was not generally recognised as a key partner in the delivery of services. Assessments of carers’ needs were inconsistent – less than half of the carers who responded to surveys said they had had their needs assessed. Only one-fifth of carers of young people with disabilities agreed there was a good range of services available, and only a quarter agreed their child had been given choices about the type of care they received.

The reasons given by social work staff for this shortfall included carers refusing assessments when offered. However, the report noted that the timing of the offer, and the manner in which it is made, were important factors.

Looked-after children

The numbers of children looked after away from and at home had increased by 20% and 21% respectively over the three years to 2008. There was also a large increase in the number of children looked after by friends or family. However, permanency planning for children in kinship placements was less developed than for children in foster care, and confusion about roles was cited as a barrier to better performance – “social workers could be left to manage the often competing needs of the child, birth parents, siblings and kinship carers”.

Parental substance misuse was cited as a major contributing factor to these increases. Approaches to corporate parenting – considered an essential component in improving the lives of Scotland’s looked-after children – were reported as inconsistent across councils, and permanent placements for children were not being found quickly enough.

Criminal justice social work services working in line with multi-agency public protection arrangements (Mappa) were recognised as contributing positively to risk management of sex offenders, but improvements in joint working in managing risks posed by violent offenders were needed. There was variation in the quality of work with offenders across councils, and practitioners were not effectively collecting and analysing information for this group.

It was also reported that practitioners were not using tools to manage and assess risk of re-offending consistently. Statistics showed 62% of offenders sentenced to imprisonment were likely to be reconvicted.

While the report recognised that a competent, confident and valued workforce, as set out in Changing Lives (Scottish Executive, 2006) is core to the effective delivery of social work services, very few councils had put in place strategies for recruitment and retention and improvements in these areas were patchy. Learning and development strategies were more prevalent, but not implemented fully in every council.

Planning for strategic commissioning and procurement was also patchy across councils and commissioning for people with dementia, children and families, and criminal justice was not well developed. Lack of expertise and organisational capacity were highlighted as barriers to commissioning.

A total of 19 out of 32 councils were deemed to be performing well on leadership, mainly due to strong corporate and political leadership. However, too much focus was being put on managing people rather than managing for change and improvement. The professional role of the chief social work officer was considered key to making further progress in this area.


Overall, in light of an ageing population and greater demands on social services in the coming years, improved strategic planning, resourcing and evaluation of services are required to meet the needs of, and protect, citizens and carers who require support. Users and carers need to be more involved in the planning and assessment of services.

There is a need to co-ordinate and improve care at home and within communities with less emphasis on institutional care, and to assess and manage risk more effectively in adult services. Early intervention and preventative strategies also need to be implemented across services, especially for children and families.

Quality performance data needs to be acquired, managed, analysed and evaluated more effectively for all services, with a focus on building outcomes into assessment and review processes, rather than depending solely on performance indicators.

A more strategic approach to professional social work practice is required, where good planning, commissioning and resource management is combined with good leadership to provide quality services. Partnership working practices and the strategic oversight of Mappas also need to be strengthened.


Directors of social work services:

● Systems need to be put in place to effectively record, analyse and evaluate data on service outcomes.

● Procedures and practice guidelines on risk assessment for personalised services needs to be put in place.

● Develop and deliver leadership and management training programmes for staff.

Frontline managers:

● Improve performance management systems, share data with teams, involve staff in discussions about the reasons for strong and weak performance.

● In personal development plans, clarify links made between individual objectives and those of the service in general.

Social workers:

● Carry out routine assessments of the needs of carers, who should be considered equal partners in providing care and support.

● For practitioners working with looked after children, young people reported that they wanted more choice and help with accommodation when leaving care, and sometimes felt unsafe in their tenancy.

Senior managers and councillors:

● Action is needed to improve staff confidence that social work services are valued by elected members.

Michelle Drumm is a knowledge and information assistant for the Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services in Scotland

Further Reading

Changing Lives: Report of the 21st Century Social Work Review, Scottish Executive, 2006 ,

A Review of Self directed Support in Scotland, Scottish Executive, 2008 ,

What do you think? Join the debate on CareSpace

Keep up to date with the latest developments in social care Sign up to our daily and weekly emails

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.