1.1. UNISON City of Edinburgh Branch welcomes
the External Audit Report as a well researched and detailed
document carrying the authority of three experienced and eminent
professionals in their fields. In particular we welcome the
clarity regarding issues of working with risk.
1.2. The conclusion is inescapable throughout
the Audit that, without measures to address the resource crisis
in staffing, in fostering and residential places and in administrative
and IT supports, many children are not and will not be as protected
as they should be.
1.3. The Audit rightly identifies the pressure
on social workers when they would want to remove a child at
risk but cannot because there is nowhere for them to go. This
was a key issue raised by social work staff in a collective
grievance four years ago, as one that made people consider leaving
the job. The situation cannot be allowed to continue.
1.4. While the Audit does raise some problems,
it lays them firmly in the resources context. It consistently
refers to the high standards of reports and practice, the commitment
of social workers to protecting children and the exceptional
work and initiative being put into that. It is a tribute to
the quality and commitment of social workers and social work
managers in Edinburgh that such standards are being met in such
1.5. The O'Brien Report investigated one tragic
case and, while there were lessons to be learned, the serious
shortcomings of that report and its tendency to extend the particular
into the generalised with unfair and unevidenced assumptions,
dealt a severe blow to morale among social workers. The External
Audit has examined 41 cases across the city in detail, presents
a more balanced, fairer and more informed picture which reflects
not only much of the actual experience of Social Workers in
Edinburgh but also many of the issues UNISON has presented to
the Council on several occasions.
1.6. We broadly welcome the recommendations
although we have reservations about a co-located child protection
team with many of the same caveats that the audit itself identifies.
These include the reality that personnel will be drawn from
existing operational management posts, thus further reducing
the staff available to deliver the actual child protection services.
The Audit envisages local geographical working together which
will have major implications for how the council sets its boundaries
- an issue currently underpinning what progress can be made
on moving to the new department. See response
to Recommendations 47 and 48 for fuller details.
1.7. The Audit raises fundamental issues about
how the change to a Children & Families Department is managed.
Examples include the need to retain skilled professional and
specialist social work management, professionally qualified
lines of supervision and specialist qualified employee development
and training in order to achieve and maintain the professional
standards the Council aspires to. Clear professional lines of
management, accountability and training, all based on staff
with skills, experience and a social work qualification, will
be essential in any new structure.
1.8. Crucially the Audit says that strong
professional social work leadership needs to be taken into the
new department to 'help rebuild the confidence and morale
1.9. The Audit graphically describes some
of the communication difficulties between agencies but, unlike
O'Brien's tendency to lay all of the blame on Council services,
the Audit delves much further. While there are areas highlighted
where communication may be a two-way problem, it also makes
it clear that social workers cannot force other agencies to
attend case conferences or divulge information and cannot be
expected to identify information held by other agencies that
they do not know about. The Audit asks those agencies to take
responsibility for that.
1.10. UNISON welcomes the Audit's comments
about the delay in applying improved salary structures to staff
and the blow to morale created by delays in addressing the anomalies
in applying these - including the effect on local supervisors
some of who are being paid less than the staff they are supervising
(some are to have recently awarded overtime payments withdrawn),
despite their key role in maintaining the child protection service.
1.11. At this stage morale is severely affected
by newly appointed and newly qualified social workers being
appointed at a higher rate of pay than staff with one or two
years experience. The focus must be on keeping skilled and experienced
staff. If initiatives to retain staff are imaginative
and successful, recruitment will follow.
1.12. Much of this situation could have been
avoided if the Council had met its responsibility to implement
the Job Evaluation part of Single Status. UNISON calls on the
Council to initiate an early and comprehensive review of social
1.13. This audit is unique in its reference
to the safety issues staff face in carrying out their duties.
The police are often surprised at the dangerous situations social
workers enter without adequate support. There are staffing implications
with most visits being made by lone workers. There are also
implications for the Council and the Children's Reporter in
terms of whether a child can remain at home if they cannot be
monitored without staff safety implications. Too often staff
are asked to monitor unmanageable situations.
1.14. UNISON believes the Council must do
much more to promote Social Work positively and this Audit gives
that opportunity in terms of the staff commitment it describes.
This ethos must be carried into the new department
1.15. The Audit deserves a detailed response
from the Council and UNISON is concerned at an apparent lack
of direct involvement of Children & Families social work
management and staff in the Chief Executive's initial response.
UNISON calls on the Council to:-
- Refer the Audit findings to the current
Children & Families Social Work structures for detailed
advice on implementation of the recommendations and other issues
raised in the Audit.
- Refer the findings to the Director Designate
of the new Children & Families Department so that the change
process can take these issues into account when designing the
structures of the new department, with the active input of the
current Children & Families leadership.
- Set up processes within the current systems,
the change process and the new department for full consultation
and involvement with the trade union.
UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union representing over
145,000 members working in the public sector. UNISON Scotland
represents workers from social work services throughout Scotland,
with members employed as social workers, residential care workers
and others administrating and supporting the social work team.
In Edinburgh, UNISON represents almost 3,000 staff in the current
Social Work Department.
3. Comments on Recommendations
Recommendation 1: UNISON welcomes this if it will ensure
that child protection procedures and information-sharing can
be enforced in partner agencies.
Recommendation 2: Local inter-agency groupings have
been a key part of previous submissions by UNISON and we welcome
this. The key role of qualified professional staff at managerial
level is essential in any new structures.
Recommendation 4: We welcome a defined CP adviser post
or structure and this must be taken into account in the new
Recommendation 6: As Recommendation 1.
Recommendation 8: We welcome measures to address the
loss of direct contact with adult services due to the separation
of Social Work in the new structure.
Recommendation 11: UNISON welcomes local geographical
groupings of staff across agencies, although not necessarily
through co-location. This is in line with our previous evidence.
This has considerable implications for how 'neighbourhoods'
and localities are structured in the new department, in terms
of the Council Review 2007 project and the principles of Community
Planning. UNISON City of Edinburgh Branch's preference is for
neighbourhoods and localities which reflect community and need
rather than structural boundaries.
It is also important to recognise the need for city-wide specialist
services and to address how they will link with geographical
structures. UNISON would also wish the council and the other
partner agencies to examine structures which would address children
and families who are homeless or frequently move across geographical
Recommendation 12 & 13: UNISON supports the use
of other staff (eg social work assistants, social care workers)
to free up social workers to do tasks they are trained to do.
We also support the use of other professional skills, for example
nursery officers. However, UNISON cautions that balanced caseloads
are essential. Social workers cannot function with caseloads
entirely comprising high-end child protection work. The use
of 'ancillary' staff must be balanced and appropriate supervision,
training and remuneration must be in place if these recommendations
are to be met.
Recommendation 14 & 15: UNISON has long campaigned
for adequate administrative support which has been reduced over
the years. The Audit graphically indicates the problems staff
face with hand-written notes, no filing support etc. UNISON
also welcomes a clear standard for case recording so long as
that standard can be realistically met within managed caseloads.
UNISON has long called for proper IT support. Social Work staff
have been left in the dark ages compared to other departments
due to a lack of investment.
Recommendation 16: UNISON supports any improvements
that can be made in buildings related to social work services.
The poor state of buildings and facilities speaks volumes for
the lack of respect accorded to Social Work staff over the years
and by implication to the public they serve. However, UNISON
stresses the need for solutions to fit communities and that
local access is a key priority in locating services.
Recommendation 17: UNISON supports staff development
opportunities which, with the increase in social work research
and knowledge, are now even more essential than ever. If initiatives
to retain staff are successful, recruitment will follow.
Since 1997 UNISON has been trying to progress the option of
'job swapping' in social work to allow staff to gain different
experiences and to retain their skills and experience within
the council. Considerable work has been done with Employee Development
on this but there has been no management decision thus far and
opportunities will diminish with the split of the department.
Recommendation 19: Greater involvement by GPs is to
be welcomed if this can be done on the basis of trust and partnership
in sharing information.
Recommendation 23, 24, 25: UNISON members value the
role of school doctors and school nurses, however structural
changes have meant that these staff are spread more thinly,
are less identified with particular schools and in some cases
no longer have the time to attend Pupil Support Groups.
Recommendation 29: UNISON would welcome a commitment
to bringing forward training initiatives for Children &
Families, Community Care and Criminal Justice Social Workers.
UNISON has been clear in its opposition to the Council's decision
to split these functions which contradicts the lessons of many
inquiries. However, now that the decision has been taken, explicit
and formal links must be established.
Recommendation 32: This recommendation underlines the
need for specialist professional social work employee development,
dedicated to the social work task in the new department. UNISON
fully supports the recommendation to transfer specific children
& families employee development to the new department.
Recommendation 34: This is as an area of crucial importance,
underlining the need for good Social Work supervision and line
management by Social Work qualified managers and consultants.
This is true across the service but particularly in child protection.
Recommendation 35: See Recommendation 29.
Recommendation 36: UNISON believes the Council can and
must do much more to promote social work positively and this
Audit gives that opportunity in terms of the staff commitment
it describes. This ethos must be carried into the new department.
Recommendation 37: UNISON has already highlighted the
need for professional supervision and management. This recommendation
highlights the need to take that strong leadership and professional
social work management into the new department to recognise
the complexity and specialism of the task, the need to continue
to develop initiatives to improve child protection and, as the
Audit says, to 'help rebuild the confidence and morale of staff'.
Recommendation 38: Report after report has
highlighted the key role of Child & Family Centres and the
innovative services they provide are widely valued. The Audit
rightly says that their care service priority must be protected
in any new structure and any tensions between care and education
priorities must be addressed. UNISON believes that the Early
Years Review must now be addressed in the context of a new integrated
department covering care and education.
Recommendation 39: UNISON has long campaigned for the
increase in care resources called for by the Audit. The
Council has still not met its responsibility under the Edinburgh
Inquiry to increase residential resources to allow choice in
the allocation of those resources.
The Audit rightly identifies the pressure on social workers
when they would want to remove a child at risk but cannot because
there is nowhere for them to go. This was a key issue raised
by social work staff in a collective grievance four years ago,
as being one that made people consider leaving the job. This
situation cannot be allowed to continue.
Recommendation 40: UNISON fully supports a planning
and development team to take services forward but stresses that
resources must be made available. The gap in this area results
from previous Council budget cuts in management and planning
tiers forced on the Social Work Department. The 'thin' management
structures which force managers away from strategy and planning
due to operational pressures must be addressed.
Recommendation 42: UNISON's call for stability in management
structures is reflected in our response to Recommendations 2,
34, and 37 among others. This will be crucial in the new department.
Recommendation 43: See response to Recommendation 11
for proposals to deal with homeless or transient children and
Recommendation 45: UNISON supports the importance of
core groups and notes that this is widely practised in the service
in Edinburgh. However, clearer joint agency guidance would be
welcomed that recognised the operational day to day accountability
of these groups. They must be practice based and not laden with
Recommendation 47 & 48: We have reservations about
a co-located child protection team with many of the same caveats
that the audit itself identifies. These include the reality
that personnel will be drawn from existing operational management
posts, thus further reducing the staff available to deliver
the actual child protection services.
UNISON also questions, as does the Audit, whether resources
should be concentrated on the short investigatory stage of child
protection when the body of evidence suggests that the longer
term therapeutic and protective work is often more crucial and
complex. The report highlights that many children are at risk
because of a developing range of care issues rather than from
a particular incident requiring a joint investigation.
In any case, the Audit envisages not a centrally based joint
or co-located working but a more local structure to create more
effective working together between the operational professionals
involved. This will have implications for which 'neighbourhood'
options the Council adopts in general and specifically in the
formation of the new Children & Families Department. UNISON
believes these should be operationally based rather than via
relatively arbitrary borders like parliamentary constituencies.
Recommendation 49: UNISON fully supports work on developing
risk assessment models but stresses that these must not be 'tick-box'
mechanistic systems and must take into account the complexities
of families and their circumstances.
4.1. UNISON welcomes the report and urges the council to consult
widely with the trade unions and other stakeholders on implementation
as outlined in our executive summary.
4.2. The issue of Child Protection has for too long been one
that suffers from sensationalist media coverage, at times ill
considered political comment and an overriding agenda of seeking
to blame rather than to understand and learn.
4.3. This Audit largely fits with the reality experienced by
social work staff and gives an opportunity to recognise the
work they do in a positive light. The Audit itself highlights
the following in bold:
"Our audit has identified many very hard working, skilled and
dedicated professionals in the key agencies working together
to try to protect children and make their care safer. We remain
concerned that in the absence of adequate resources and without
the resolution of the remaining problems in sharing sensitive
information across agencies there remain some children whose
safety cannot be assured"
The Council must understand that whether or not information
is shared is not always within the power of social workers.
4.4. The lessons from the Audit must be addressed in the context
of the new department and any pressure to dilute the maintenance
of clear social work lines of professional development, management
and accountability must be resisted.
4.5. The possible tensions between care and education priorities
and between universal services and need based services must
be recognised in the new department. There is a particular need
to maintain and build on the widely respected Child & Family
Centre service which is so important to child protection.
4.6. Measures must be urgently taken to address resource, backup,
remuneration, training and professional support issues. It is
imperative that these are not delayed while we wait for the
4.7. Retention of social workers must be a priority and urgent
attention must be paid to implementing a fair and equitable
remuneration package in the interim, recognising the range of
staff contributing to child protection and resource provision,
and a full review as a matter of urgency.
Branch Vice Chair
Convenor Social Work Shop Stewards Committee
17 August 2004