UNISON City of Edinburgh Branch





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UNISON City of Edinburgh Branch Response to:-
HMIe Joint inspection of services to protect children and young people in the City of Edinburgh Council area

UNISON welcomes praise for work of frontline staff and calls for national debate on the crisis in resources for vulnerable children

Responding to the HMIe joint agency child protection inspection in Edinburgh, UNISON (the union representing social work staff) has welcomed the recognition of the crucial good work done by staff in protecting babies and young children affected by substance misuse.

In addition the report praises the information sharing between agencies and the work done to ensure children's views are heard. This is all a welcome recognition of the hard work put in by staff at a time of ever-increasing pressures.

But the report also says there is much yet to be done. Our members are concerned at some inconsistencies and the lack of detail in references to 'some' cases but they identify with the bulk of the criticisms. They have raised many of the issues themselves over the last six years.

A key issue is resources. UNISON points out that Edinburgh, like almost all other Councils, spends vastly more on services for vulnerable children than the Scottish Government is prepared to fund. But even then it is not enough.

That crisis is just not sustainable. That is why we are calling for a national debate on the issue.

Our members welcome the finding that there are not enough placements for children who need to come into care. UNISON raised this issue formally with the Council in 2001, then again in 2003. We raised it at the Scottish Parliament in 2004 and the Council's own audit in the same year warned about the lack of care resources. We also raised the issue in 2005 at the birth of the new Children and Families Department.

Placements for children are expensive. This problem cannot be solved by the Council alone, especially when it is already spending far above what the Scottish Government provides. But if it is not resolved, some children will continue to be unsafe with nothing that social workers can do about it.

Of all the issues that affect the morale of staff, the inability to take a child into care when that is the only way to keep that child safe, is by far the one that has the biggest impact.

Yes, more resources are needed. But UNISON believes that social work itself cannot hope to address the deep social problems caused by drug and alcohol abuse. With fewer than 140 front-line children and families social workers in Edinburgh, we cannot hope to cope with the thousands of children affected. Dealing with the results can never be enough. We need to get to the causes.

If we want effective social services we are going to have to pay for them. Politicians and the public cannot expect services on a shoestring with the satisfaction that if anything goes wrong, they can blame the social worker.

And if we want to prevent the problems that lead to children being at risk, we need a plan across the whole of society that addresses the reasons for the problem, not just the symptoms.

Despite all the problems, Edinburgh has recruited more staff. One of the reasons is the commitment to support and supervision from front-line managers. We have a dedicated but inexperienced workforce. That in itself puts huge pressures on front-line managers, many of whom are being paid less than ordinary social workers in neighbouring authorities.

These staff deserve the public's support. UNISON welcomes the additional investment in staff but this has been matched by an increase in referrals that means the pressures have not reduced.

We are heading for as many as 40 babies coming into care this year because of parental drug problems. Child protection referrals are at an all time high. We cannot get suitable placements for all the children who need them. Despite more staff, all teams are working at the edge, many are beleaguered, and some are only just surviving.

Yet, within all those pressures, staff have managed to hang on to the wish to do better for the children they serve and at least this report recognises that.

UNISON will fully engage with the Council on how best to take things forward. Our members want Edinburgh to lead in services for children and, with the right leadership and the right funding, we can and will achieve that.

But most of all, UNISON is calling on everyone involved to enter a national debate on whether we value services that protect and nurture children - and if we do, how much we are prepared to invest in them.

Until we do that, there will always be a mismatch between the ideal expected by inspections and the reality of what can be provided.

It is abundantly clear that successive Scottish Governments - while always ready to issue instructions - have failed to recognise the real level of need and back that up with resources. UNISON therefore calls on this Scottish Government to initiate a national debate to address the crisis.


27 September 2007