Scottish review rejects shake-up and backs social worker autonomy

Scotland’s eagerly awaited 21st Century Review of Social Work report stops short of recommending wholesale structural reform and instead calls for “transformational change” in the way services are designed and delivered.

The report, a copy of which has been seen by Community Care, recommends strengthening the role of the chief social work officer, as well as giving social workers more autonomy in decision-making and more involvement in preventive work.

It is the culmination of more than 12 months of talks and evidence-sifting by social work experts, led by the specialist public sector consultant William Roe. But the report’s publication has been delayed a week, leading to rumours that ministers are unhappy with its contents.

It finds there is “little clarity” about the role of chief social work officers and that some are appointed at the wrong level to exercise their responsibilities effectively. It says many social workers and managers do not know the name of their chief officer or what they do.

The report rejects the English model of separating senior management responsibilities for children’s and adults’ services, but says a single person should retain governance powers over the way all services are delivered and commissioned.

It says the chief officer must be “a visible, credible social work professional able to provide sound professional leadership and to challenge practice at any level and part of the system”.

But it adds that the profession is saddled with unreasonable expectations from society, lacks confidence in its own skills, spends too much time on menial and bureaucratic tasks and focuses too much on being the gatekeeper to services. However, it says there is much good work going on in difficult conditions.

It outlines the need for social workers to spend most of their time with the most vulnerable clients, whether they are in crisis or to prevent that occurring, and suggests that a national recognition and pay framework linked to career paths and competences be introduced.

This was welcomed by Ruth Stark, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers Scotland, who said higher pay would help keep experienced social workers at the front line.


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