FUTURE MANAGEMENT OF SOCIAL WORK SERVICES IN
UNISON's PRELIMINARY RESPONSE TO CONSULTATION
Children & Families
- This preliminary response concentrates on Children & Families
Social Work since it has been the key area identified by the
Council. However, there is an enormous range of services provided
by Community Care and Criminal Justice which must also be addressed
and we will comment later on that. This response outlines:
- UNISON's concern about any fundamental reorganisation at this
time and the lack of service planning in the exercise. The priority
should be to address resources, which are the key issue highlighted
by the Laming and Carla Bone Inquiries.
- UNISON's preference is for the option of the status quo with
improvements. We lead evidence from Inquiries and Scottish Executive
publications to show that fragmentation of the Department would
act against the lessons of inquiries.
- Some facts about Children & Families Social Work in Edinburgh
to outline the low ratio of resources and the complexity of
- The main thrust of inquiries is to improve the functioning
of the multi-agency Child Protection Committee rather than internal
reorganisation. None of the options will assist in moving towards
Neighbourhood Management in themselves and new thinking is needed
with a role for neighbourhood multi-agency Child Protection
- Current initiatives in the Social Work Department which, despite
resource problems, are directly responding to key recommendations
of Inquiries and the Scottish Executive.
- An alternative way forward strengthening the role of the Child
Protection Committee with structures at Neighbourhood level.
Concern about reorganisation
- Any reorganisation should involve an assessment of what
service we must provide by statute, what service we wish to
provide and what standard of service we aspire to. This would
- Examination of where the current system succeeds or fails
to do this.
- An analysis of what systems are needed to best provide the
- Advice from the leading professionals in the field.
- Evidence from inquiries etc
- The problem with the current consultation is that:-
- It has done none of this analysis
- It has set out options that do not relate to the identified
- It has not learned from the lessons of inquiries.
- It has had no serious involvement from Social Work professionals.
- It is reactive and sets 'top down' structures that services
will have to fit into rather than responding to the needs
of the service or of the public.
- The paper refers to the need to maintain a Social Work identity
but UNISON is concerned that this will be fragmented and the
principles and ethics that protect the public will be undermined
- Section 4 below shows the level of resource pressure facing
Children & Families teams. It is an issue raised regularly
by UNISON but is also a key issue raised by Inquiries as outlined
in 4.4 and 5.5 below.
3. Evidence from Inquiries and Reports conflicts with 'preferred'
- Most of the options conflict with lessons from inquiries.
- O'Brien: The O'Brien Inquiry, for all its shortcomings,
calls for closer integration between Community Care, Criminal
Justice and Children & Families staff in child protection.
Yet most options would divide these staff into separate departments
with separate management structures.
- O'Brien states that structures and procedures were
in place but were not operated. Resources have a major bearing
- While O'Brien does mention Housing in one part, by far its
greater concentration is on Health and Police. Neither this
report nor Laming raises any issue which would lead to a conclusion
that Social Work and Education should be integrated.
- Laming: The Laming Inquiry into the death of Victoria
Climbie calls for a National Agency to advise, not operational
local trusts as in the English Green Paper. Laming finds no
particular case for merging functions or even co-location.
On the contrary, it points to the need for child protection
to have an overview from Social Service Departments.
- The Scottish Executive's "It's everyone's job to make
sure I'm alright", while calling for more integration
in the commissioning of services for children, does not call
for such mergers or even co-location. Indeed, Recommendation
5 focuses on the important role of Child Protection Committees
- "Getting Our Priorities Right", the Scottish Executive
Guidance for working with Children & Families affected
by Substance Misuse reflects this theme (6.20). It stresses
the need for joint work between Children & Families, Community
Care and Criminal Justice (para 6.6).
- Most professional bodies have serious reservations about
the route recommended in the English Green Paper.
- The priority of all recent Inquiries and reviews has been
to improve integrated working between internal Social Work
specialisms (not to separate them). Fragmenting the Department
would act against the lessons of inquiries, especially O'Brien.
4. Resource facts about Children & Families Social Work
- If fully staffed (which they never are) Children & Families
Teams would have only 115 Social Workers and Senior Practitioners
for the whole of Edinburgh. The figure at the moment is in
reality about 98 with possibly as few as 60 qualified to do
child protection work.
- These staff deal in the average week with:-
- About 2,700 children
- About 180 referrals from the public and other agencies
- 17 new Child Protections necessitating contacting the Register
- 52 reports for the Childrens Reporter
- 21 Childrens Hearings
- 300+ children on the child protection register
- 800+ Children Looked After and Accommodated away from home
- 460 Children on supervision at home
- 700 Children with Special Needs plus Reports for Court Family
Proceedings, Adoptions (190 children waiting), Family Problems,
Drug/Alcohol problems etc etc.
- Half of all referrals directly concern care of a child or
a child at risk
- 34% of referrals come directly from the public
- UNISON believes that the above demonstrates a resource
crisis which must be addressed before and outwith any reorganisation.
- The Carla Bone Inquiry (North East Child Protection
Committee October 2003) notes (5.1) that "Critical
pressures on social work and health staffing are impeding
the protection of children" and makes it clear that this
is Scotland wide, not just relevant to the North East.
- Children & Families is also responsible for a huge range
of services including Childrens Homes, the much praised Child
& Family Centres, Youth Justice initiatives, School based
and Working Together Social Workers, Services for Children
with Special Needs, Recruiting and supporting foster carers
and other resources etc. Its role is wide and complex.
- The North East Child Protection Committee Inquiry recognises
that this breadth and complexity is not broadly understood
and recommends that officials do more to brief politicians
and the public (11.5-11.6, page 70)
5. Improving Child Protection Committees/ Neighbourhood options.
- The Child Protection Committee is the multi-agency body
that brings together Social Work, Police, Health etc to create
a joint response to child protection. In Edinburgh this is
a Lothians-wide body.
- The crucial aspects of O'Brien's recommendations are better
working between Local Authorities, Health and Police. It sees
the Child Protection Committee as having the crucial role
- The Scottish Executive's "It's everyone's job to make
sure I'm alright" cites the Child Protection Committee
as having the crucial role in improving communication between
Health, Social Work, Police etc and calls for a review of
how they are functioning (Recommendation 5).
- O'Brien rightly finds that the key problems were in communication
between primarily Health and Social Work. Some of this was
due to a lack of clarity in the Health Service about their
own systems and the limits of confidentiality. The Child Protection
Committee has the key role in addressing this.
- The Carla Bone Inquiry also underlines the key role
of the Child Protection Committee not just in the above areas
but also in the crucial resource areas. The Child Protection
Committee "should use their allocated responsibility for
child protection issues to ensure that Senior Managers and
the Scottish Executive continue to be advised about the impact
of staff shortages on the services which are protecting children.
This includes the problems caused by the growth of innovative
and short term projects which are attracting staff away from
mainstream child care services. (See 5.3-5.5, pages 55-56)."
This reflects the same widely-recognised problems in Edinburgh.
- Neighbourhood Management will be no better served
by the proposed new structures than the existing ones. Real
neighbourhood working is best served by pulling all agencies
together at a local level. In the past, local Child Protection
(or Review) Committees stood alone but they could easily be
redesigned to play a key role in neighbourhood strategies.
6. Current initiatives in the Social Work Department in Edinburgh.
- UNISON supports a range of initiatives the Social Work Department
has already addressed (in addition to those implemented directly
as a result of O'Brien) These were started before O'Brien
- A review of child protection practice to address the best
way to investigate with other agencies and crucially the best
way to work on a long term therapeutic basis with children
- There is already joint training with the police on investigative
interviews and the Child Protection Certificate training covers
disciplines other than just Social Work. There is increasing
joint work with Health Visitors including liaison meetings
at local level.
- A review of duty systems to address how services can be
accessed better and crises responded to more consistently.
- There is already a range of 'co-located' services, particularly
with Education but also with Health. These retain individual
specialisms and professional lines of accountability for the
benefit of children, while facilitating team working and avoiding
the need for new and separate bureaucracies.
- Responding to the recruitment and retention crisis by recruiting
more ancillary staff to free up Social Workers to do tasks
that only a qualified Social Worker can do.
- Re-examining the role of Practice Teams with a view to
greater integration of services for children and young people.
- The Carla Bone Inquiry recommends "that Councils
address regularly any staff shortages in the key area of protecting
children and report on these and other resource gaps to elected
members". (See 5.13, pages 59-60). This is now being
done in Edinburgh and should give the Council a clearer picture
as to where the real problems facing Social Work lie.
- The current review options are not based on an assessment
of the service, what needs to be provided and what needs to
change. They are formulated in isolation with the expectation
that services will fall in line with the bureaucracy rather
than services defining the structure they need. There has
been no professional input.
- The thrust of evidence and recommendations from inquiries
conflicts with the Council's preferred options (3 and 4) which
would fragment the Department.
- No account has been taken of the role of the Child Protection
Committee despite the key comments from Inquiries and Scottish
- No account has been taken of the clear resource problems
currently affecting service delivery and recruitment and retention.
- None of the options in themselves will facilitate Neighbourhood
- There is a strong risk that Social Work principles and
ethics which protect the service and the public could be diluted
8. An alternative way forward
- Lessons from inquiries point to retaining the status quo
with improvements while building on the internal links between
Children & Families, Community Care and Criminal Justice
as recommended by most recent publications.
- Some of the imaginative thinking in Children and Families
services and the initiatives pre-O'Brien demonstrate that
change is being pushed forward in the current system in
direct response to identified problems and service delivery
- The key issue is a long term chronic lack of resources.
With appropriate resourcing, the current systems can deliver
all that is required from recent inquiries and Scottish Executive
- Even with the current lack of resources, exceptional work
by staff means targets are being met as recognised by the
recent Scottish Executive report.
- Further work should be done on integrating the roles of
Children & Families, Community Care and Criminal Justice
in child protection, community safety and youth crime so that
there is a consistent partnership with Housing, Health and
- Further debate is needed on political understanding of the
law regarding child protection, the management of substance
abuse and on thresholds in the law and in society for 'good
enough care'. This has already been raised by politicians
in Edinburgh and goes alongside the guidance in 'Getting Our
Priorities Right' and findings of the Carla Bone report. The
latter says that the Child Protection Committee has the key
role and "should debate the need to develop guidance for
staff in all agencies to identify a common understanding of
what is meant by the terms 'in need','vulnerable', 'neglect'
and 'requiring protection'." (See 1.1-1.4, pages 44-45).
- Much of the ill-informed comments about Social Work and
the simplistic approach to criticism of it and to a largely
mechanistic reorganisation stems for a lack of knowledge among
politicians and the public about the range, complexity and
inter-dependence of Social Work Services. The Carla Bone Inquiry
recognises this widespread problem and recommends: "36.
We recommend that wherever possible Chief Executives and senior
managers of other services should explain to elected members,
Health Board members and the wider public, the tasks of their
staff and the way in which they try to carry out their responsibilities.
(See 11.5-11.6, page 70)".
- Co-located (but not merged) joint working, particularly
with Education but also with Health should be built on to
retain individual specialisms and professional lines for the
benefit of children, while facilitating team working.
- There should therefore be a re-invigoration of the Child
Protection Committee (the key body identified by all recent
- Make links between agencies more robust
- Create a system that allows agencies to demand information
and involvement in child protection cases, with lines of accountability
to address any problems
- Facilitate more formal joint working across agencies.
- Facilitate more joint training across agencies.
- Foster exchange initiatives for staff to directly experience
working in partner agencies.
- As recommended by the NECPC report, it should take seriously
its role in alerting politicians at local and Scottish level
of where resource issues are affecting child protection.
- Re-institute local Neighbourhood Child Protection
Committees to foster closer co-operation and joint
working at local level and facilitate the principles of Neighbourhood
John Stevenson, Branch Secretary
0131 220 5655
Lyn Williams, Social Work Convenor 0131 220 5655 firstname.lastname@example.org
UNISON City of Edinburgh
Local Government & Related Sectors Branch
23 George IV Bridge
Tel: 0131 220 5655
Fax: 0131 225 9125
A report on the future organisation and management of Edinburgh's
Social Work Services
The Laming Report on the Victoria Climbie Inquiry
North East of Scotland Child Protection Committee (NESPC)
review of the death of Carla Nicole Bone
The O'Brien Report into the death of Caleb Ness
UNISON Edinburgh : Interim Comments - December 2003 Preliminary
Report on the O'Brien Inquiry
"It's everyone's job to make sure I'm alright" Report of the
Child Protection Audit and Review Scottish Executive
Scottish Executive 'Getting our Priorities Right': Good Practice
Guidance for working with Children and Families affected by Substance