Unison/BASW: Scottish social workers need more resources

Unison and the British Association of Social Workers today urged the Scottish government and employers to boost resources and support for frontline social workers to ensure services improve in line with policy goals.

The union and professional association published a joint manifesto for social work in Scotland identifying key barriers to achieving the aspirations of the Changing Lives programme, launched by the government in 2006 following the 21st Century Review of Social Work in Scotland.

This set out plans to make services more personalised, including by giving social workers more autonomy, improving training and education and developing the role of para-professionals to provide support for social workers.

Resources have not kept pace with workloads

However, BASW and Unison said resources had not kept pace with rising workloads, leaving staff overstretched. They called for effective workload management systems to be introduced, alongside improved staffing levels and resources.

Other recommendations included cutting levels of bureaucracy, particularly in children’s services. The manifesto said some children may have at least eight reports or assessments produced about them at any one time, which it described as “system abuse”, designed to protect the professional rather than the child.

It also urged improved supervision and support, alongside measures to ensure employers fulfilled their responsibilities to staff under the Scottish Social Services Council code of practice for employers. These include providing training and development opportunities.

Career paths haphazard

Despite one of the objectives of Changing Lives being to enable experienced social workers to remain on the frontline, the manifesto said experienced practitioners were “not valued in terms of career paths”.

It added: “We need clear career paths and rewards that enable experienced practitioners to remain in practice.”

Staff should also be encouraged to identify and report problems without fear of being “pilloried in the media or hung out to dry by risk averse management”. It said strong unions and professional assocations were critical for this as relying on whistleblowing procedures was not effective.

More community social work

The manifesto also called for more investment in community social work to help build community capacity and reduce the need for statutory interventions being used against families.

It also said social work offices should be more welcoming to help tackle the stigma of accessing services.

Tumbling vacancy rates

The news came as Scottish government figures showed vacancy rates for social workers in Scottish councils had tumbled from 12.8% in October 2003 to 7% in October 2008.

The official statistics showed the number of qualified social workers employed by councils had risen by 1.7% from October 2007-October 2008, to 5,072, the seventh consecutive increase in numbers.

Unison national social services officer – and Social Work Task Force member – Helga Pile said last week there were lessons England could learn from Scotland, particularly in using practitioner forums to involve social workers in shaping policy.

She said this and other initiatives brought in under Changing Lives partially explained the far lower social work vacancy rates in Scottish as opposed to English councils, as revealed by Unison last week.

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