In 2016 social worker Karen Ralston left the city where she had spent most of her career to become an area manager at Highland Council. And it wasn’t just the better work-life balance and the chance to work in the most beautiful part of the country that attracted her to the Highlands.
“I came to Highland because I believe in integrated working and wanted to make a real difference in the lives of children and families,” Karen explains.
“I knew the reputation of Highland Council as being at the forefront of children’s services in Scotland. I understood what had been achieved through improving outcomes for children and reduced caseloads for social workers, and I very much wanted to be part of that.”
20 years of innovation
The reputation that attracted Karen to Highland Council has been 20 years in the making.
Since the late 1990s, Highland Council has been unwavering in its commitment to developing a child and family friendly future for the Highlands. A future based on “a network of collaborative relationships on a scale never previously achieved – or seriously attempted”.
Highland has stuck to that vision and the result is the most integrated children’s service in Scotland – a service that has set the tone for social work in Scotland.
The embedded Practice Model developed in Highland proved so successful that the Scottish Government legislated to introduce it across Scotland.
Five great reasons to join Highland Council
When the Scottish Government first published its national reform programme called ‘Getting it right for every child’ in 2005, it turned to Highland Council to develop the practice model that would make the programme’s principles reality.
In response Highland developed the child’s pathway through services, new professional roles, and practice tools to engage and empower children and families.
It reduced bureaucracy and created a shared assessment model and the single child’s plan.
“The development of the Highland Practice Model ensured the team around the child became a real, co-ordinated team, working to a single child’s plan,” says Katrina Beaton, a family team manager in Nairn who has worked at Highland for 20 years.
Reducing caseloads and ending silos
In 2012, inspired by similar thinking in adult services and some examples of lead commissioning approaches used in England, the Council and local Health Board agreed to create a single department that integrated social care, education and community-based health for children.
Highland adopted this approach four years before legislation introduced it elsewhere in Scotland, and the council is still the only place that has brought the three disciplines together in one agency.
These changes further improved outcomes for children. They helped further reduce the number of children referred to the Children’s Reporter for compulsory measures and brought caseloads down by up to 50%, so social workers can now focus on the children who most need their specialist skills and knowledge.
“The creation of Family Teams a few years ago swept away the silos, and we now have real integrated working across health, education and social care,” says Katrina. “That can only be better for children and families.”
‘My team take pride and enjoy what they do’
Bill Alexander, the social worker who is now director of care and learning at Highland, is in charge of the integrated service.
“As a social worker myself, I take great pride in the place of social work in this integrated service,” he says. “Social workers always work in partnership, and they thrive on collaboration. I am very pleased that the role of the social worker in Highland is held in the highest regard.”
As Katrina adds: “Social work will always be a challenging profession, but I am confident that we are working with the right children and families, and helping to make a real difference.
“I have a team of practice leads, social workers and other colleagues who take pride in their work, and enjoy what they do. And of course, we also have the benefit of working, in the most beautiful part of the country.”
Want to learn more about working for Highland Council and the many ways we help our social workers to make a real difference? Then check out our latest job opportunities.