UNISON City of Edinburgh Branch





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External Audit of Child Protection Services in Edinburgh

UNISON City of Edinburgh Branch Submission

1. Executive Summary

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 difficult circumstances.

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 of staff'.

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 work salaries.

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.

2. Introduction

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 department.

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 boundaries.

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 families.

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 bureaucratic systems.


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. Conclusion

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 new department.

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.
John Stevenson
Branch Secretary

Lyn Williams
Branch Vice Chair
Convenor Social Work Shop Stewards Committee

17 August 2004