New measures for social care in Scotland were announced by the Scottish executive this week. The plans come in response to the 21st Century Review of Social Work report, the product of over 12 months of work by social care experts, published on the same day.
Peter Peacock, Scotland’s minister for education and young people, said the review “clearly told” ministers that Scotland’s approach to social care and its response to a growing demand for services is unsustainable and reform is necessary.
For anyone who has read the social care and health white paper on services for England, published by the Westminster government last week, the main themes in the Scotland plans will be familiar. The need for more preventive work is discussed, as is service users taking more control.
The executive proposals call for social workers to be given greater autonomy in decision making and more career opportunities. In order to do this the report proposes the creation of a national recognition and reward framework for social workers linked to new career pathways and competencies.
Andrew Sim, policy and research officer at Age Concern Scotland, says that more autonomy for social workers is to be welcomed if it means they would be able to make decisions on resources - such as allocating service users a grab rail or other small scale equipment.
“If devolved power means budgetary power as well then that’s great,” he says. “We know that low cost options are something that can prevent a trip to hospital.”
Sim explains that at present such decisions have to go through local authority resources committees, leading to long waits for older people and disabled people.
Ruth Stark, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers Scotland, says she strongly supports the careers proposals and that more money should follow. “I assume a career structure will mean us being paid more,” she says.
In its response to the review’s proposals the executive has announced plans to allow experienced professionals to progress their career while remaining at the frontline.
Councillor Eric Jackson, social work and health improvement spokesperson at the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, says this is a good move as currently professionals often have to reluctantly move into management in order to progress up the chain.
The executive also said it will develop a new paraprofessional role, for people to work under the direction of social workers. The role is proposed in the review report in response to its finding that skilled social workers are not being used in the most effective way, with much of their time being spent on work that doesn't require their level of expertise.
Working across services
The executive outlines the paraprofessional role as being "skilled to a nationally recognised and accredited level" and able to work across and between different services.
Jackson says that in principle there’s nothing wrong having such professionals working under the supervision of social workers. “Some of the more low level stuff doesn’t necessarily have to be done with somebody with that sort of qualification,” he says.
But he adds that the kind of qualifications held by people in the new roles would have to be “talked through”.
Sim says he is concerned that the paraprofessionals could be given jobs to do which require specific training, such as carrying out the single shared assessment procedure, a tool enabling practitioners to assess needs and share information, without having the appropriate knowledge.
Stark says that “more thinking” needs to take place on the subject. She argues that workers similar to the paraprofessional role already exist in Glasgow and other models of providing social work through a combination of social educators, social workers and social pedagogues, as used in Sweden, could be more effective.
She explains that social educators and pedagogues carry out community and group work and build up capacity within communities to enable people to support themselves. “We have to be much more imaginative,” she says.
Jackson says that although the executive has recognised more resources will be required to implement the plans, a figure has yet to be announced. Anyone aware of the Westminster government’s initial optimistic expectation for its changes to adult social care in England to be "cost neutral" will recognise this as a good start.