UNISON City of Edinburgh Branch





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Policy Finder




Children & Families

January 2004



  1. 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:
  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Some facts about Children & Families Social Work in Edinburgh to outline the low ratio of resources and the complexity of the task

  4. 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 Committees.

  5. Current initiatives in the Social Work Department which, despite the
    resource problems, are directly responding to key recommendations of Inquiries and the Scottish Executive.

  6. Summary

  7. An alternative way forward strengthening the role of the Child Protection Committee with structures at Neighbourhood level.

  1. Concern about reorganisation

    1. 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 typically involve:-

      - Examination of where the current system succeeds or fails to do this.
      - An analysis of what systems are needed to best provide the service.
      - Advice from the leading professionals in the field.
      - Evidence from inquiries etc

    2. 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 problems
      - 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.

    3. 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 or diluted.

    4. 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' option.

    1. Most of the options conflict with lessons from inquiries.

    2. 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.

    3. O'Brien states that structures and procedures were in place but were not operated. Resources have a major bearing on this.

    4. 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.

    5. 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.

    6. 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 (see below).

    7. "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).

    8. Most professional bodies have serious reservations about the route recommended in the English Green Paper.

    9. 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 in Edinburgh.

    1. 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.

    2. 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
    1. UNISON believes that the above demonstrates a resource crisis which must be addressed before and outwith any reorganisation.

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

    4. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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 here.

    3. 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).

    4. 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.

    5. 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.

    6. 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.

    1. 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 and include:-

    2. 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 at risk.

    3. 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.

    4. A review of duty systems to address how services can be accessed better and crises responded to more consistently.

    5. 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.

    6. 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.

    7. Re-examining the role of Practice Teams with a view to greater integration of services for children and young people.

    8. 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.

7. Summary

    1. 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.

    2. The thrust of evidence and recommendations from inquiries conflicts with the Council's preferred options (3 and 4) which would fragment the Department.

    3. No account has been taken of the role of the Child Protection Committee despite the key comments from Inquiries and Scottish Executive documents.

    4. No account has been taken of the clear resource problems currently affecting service delivery and recruitment and retention.

    5. None of the options in themselves will facilitate Neighbourhood Management.

    6. There is a strong risk that Social Work principles and ethics which protect the service and the public could be diluted or undermined.


8. An alternative way forward

    1. 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.

    2. 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 issues.

    3. 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 reports.

    4. Even with the current lack of resources, exceptional work by staff means targets are being met as recognised by the recent Scottish Executive report.

    5. 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 Police etc.

    6. 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).

    7. 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)".

    8. 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.

    9. There should therefore be a re-invigoration of the Child Protection Committee (the key body identified by all recent reports) to:-
    • 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 Management


Further Information

John Stevenson, Branch Secretary
0131 220 5655

Lyn Williams, Social Work Convenor 0131 220 5655 branchoffice@unison-edinburgh.org.uk

Website: www.unison-edinburgh.org.uk

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 Misuse