From Banchory to Ayr – another varied fortnight

The role of the Chief Social Work Adviser to the Government is as varied as any other role in social services and therefore no two days are the same – particularly with the opportunity to meet so many professionals committed to advancing social services in all their diversity and complexity. Two kinds of activities have dominated the last fortnight for me – visits to services and discussions with managers and front line staff on the vision and strategy for social services in Scotland. The document has been circulated for comment through the members of the Social Work Services Strategic Forum (SWSSF).

4th November saw the first meeting of the relaunched reference group for support workers in Scotland – supported and organised by Scottish Care. I was delighted to have this opportunity to discuss the draft vision and strategy with a critically important group of staff who are sometimes undervalued and yet provide some of the most personal and crucial services. It was also encouraging to see the support of SSSC, Care Inspectorate, Joint Improvement Team, IRISS and NES at this meeting. Whilst these were positive discussions, it also highlighted that the sector in Scotland has much to do in supporting the further development of this staff group.

I was privileged to accompany the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Right Reverend John Chalmers, on one day of the annual week of visits which the Moderator makes to Crossreach services. During the day we visited the newly refurbished Bellfield House in Banchory. Bellfield House sits next to the High Street in Banchory and has recently gone through extensive development and refurbishment. Importantly all of the residents were placed elsewhere for a year and then all returned safely to the comfort of their new home. We also visited the Bungalow in Stonehaven which is a purpose built home for five adults with profound and multiple learning disabilities. Like Bellfield, it is an important part of the local community and won the specialist adult care award in the national Scottish Care Home Awards in 2013. Both the Moderator and I then participated in a very interesting Q and A session with forty Crossreach managers in Perth, chaired by Director Peter Bailey.

On to South Ayrshire Council – the final stop of the week and a further opportunity to meet with front line staff and managers. As you would expect there are many common issues emerging from these meetings and visits – including pressures on staff, capacity building, where social services fits in a world of constant change and the need for more consistency in supervision. A summary of these themes will be provided in a paper to the SWSSF in February and feature in the final strategy. Connection between the views of front line staff and the work of the Forum remains essential. One of the most impressive features of my visit to South Ayrshire was a demonstration of ‘Ayrshare’ – a collaboration of the three local authority partnerships to share information. This is beginning to have an impact on identifying our most vulnerable children within an overall GIRFEC framework. Worth having a look at as there is still much to be achieved in Scotland to make better use of information to support those at greatest risk.

One of the features I have identified on my visits is how community capacity has been developed out of adversity. Girvan Opportunities exemplifies how the closure of buildings and services has resulted in stronger, better connected services within one building where, under the leadership of a passionate social work manager, learning disability services have become more personalised sitting alongside Job Centre Plus and outreach classes provided by three local colleges. Similar innovation was evident in Newton Stewart where the adult resource centre became the community hub. Again strong and creative leadership in evidence.

The commitment to building new, small homely residential units influenced by the young people themselves has been a long overdue improvement in supporting Scotland’s looked after and accommodated young people. Cunninghame House, Ayr is less than a year old. With a committed staff group working hard on ethos, vision and person centred planning there is real commitment to driving forward on outcomes and continuous improvement.

Whilst my blog will not often reflect my activity at weekends, last Saturday saw me attending the first Edinburgh Bash in support of the Children’s Hospice Association Scotland ( CHAS ), of which I am a trustee. It was a pleasure to meet so many people who support CHAS in so many different ways including Chief Executive Maria McGill ( pictured ) who along with a highly committed workforce works wonders to support children, young people and their families when they need it most.

photo Blog 2.1

The past week has been more office based and much needed in order to prepare for a number of presentations and speeches over the next fortnight and of course writing my new blog! I did however take time to meet with Alison Todd and her senior management team at Children 1st. A focussed morning on both national and local services with excellent discussions on a wide range of issues from Safeguarders to commissioning and Public Social Partnerships to the development of community engagement and Confidential Space. Similar to many other 3rd sector organisations, no shortage of innovation, creativity and skill to support children, young people and families – but very real challenges in sustaining high quality services.

Finally I finished my week off with a short presentation to and discussion with Scotland’s Social Work Academics at the University of the West of Scotland. The involvement of the academics in shaping the future for social services is vital and I look forward to their ongoing input as we face the challenges of strengthening the profession in Scotland.