When it comes to integrated working in children’s services, Highland Council is the authority that sets the pace in Scotland.
Its Highland Practice Model has brought social workers, health visitors, head teachers and police together to provide early support for families with stunning results. The model has halved social work caseloads, dismantled the barriers between professionals and, most importantly of all, enhanced outcomes for children by preventing needs from escalating.
The model has proven so effective that it’s now being replicated across Scotland.
Highland’s model of early intervention and integrated working is a sharp contrast with the way social work is going elsewhere in the UK, says Bill Alexander, the authority’s director of care and learning.
A refreshing change
“Thanks to approaches like the Highland Practice Model, children’s services in Scotland continue to address the full range of need and continues to focus on early intervention and providing support to families,” he says.
“In other parts of the UK social work has sadly become a reactive service and very much a service that deals largely with child protection rather than supporting children and families at an earlier point. The way we work in Highland would definitely be a refreshing change for professionals who come here from elsewhere in the UK.”
The very office Bill works in illustrates how the integration of services in Highland has brought professionals of all stripes together.
“As I walk along the corridor that runs past my room, I pass the social worker who leads our health and social care services; the educational psychologist who manages all additional support need services and pass the former head teacher who line manages all care and learning services in the West Highlands,” he says.
Making the switch
For social workers coming to Highland from outside Scotland, the council offers support to familiarise them with the Highland Practice Model and Scottish legislation.
“We will support people with the transition but the core principles of social work remain the same and the challenges you would be helping children and families with are no different either,” says Bill.
On top of the support with the transition to working in Scotland, Highland Council also offers a relocation package worth up to £6,500.
And once in post Highland offers plenty of other benefits too from flexible working, working from home, competitive pay and training and development opportunities tailored to your individual needs.
“All of them are fully committed to supporting our children to achieve their full potential, from birth to adulthood, and they know that this can only be achieved through effective collaboration.”
Fewer caseloads, better outcomes
One of the key signs of the benefits that uniting social workers, health workers and education staff in Highland has delivered is a major reduction in caseloads.
“Because we have successful early intervention, not only do more children get access to early support but fewer children have needs that escalate to the stage where they require social work intervention,” Bill explains.
“The Highland Practice Model has brought clarity to the role of all staff working across children’s services as part of a team that supports and empowers children and families to improve outcomes.”
While Highland’s approach is distinct, social work in Highland is still social work, says Bill: “In the Highlands we face very similar challenges to those seen across the country, such as the impact of austerity of families which means we need to support families with challenges such as poverty and rural deprivation.”
A wonderful life
As might be expected for an predominately rural authority accounting for one third of Scotland’s land mass, issues of rural deprivation and isolation are a major focal point but it would be a mistake to typecast the area as homogenous.
“Highland is a large and diverse authority so working on an island like Skye is a very different experience from working in an urban community such as Inverness,” he says. “We offer the whole range of experiences and that includes working in remote, rural communities as well as working with young people experiencing urban deprivation.”
For children’s social workers and health workers interested in joining Highland that means it is important to think about what kind of area you want to work in, says Bill.
“Because we have the whole range of opportunities here from remote and rural to urban, candidates do need to reflect on the nature of the experiences that they want to have here,” he suggests.
“Remote and rural does mean there won’t be a Marks & Spencer but for those who want that experience it is a wonderful place to live and work. You get all the benefits of the most wonderful environment in the UK and you also get to work alongside some of the most committed, passionate and skilled practitioners in the UK.”