Since my last blog, the new First Minister has announced a number of important ministerial changes including new Cabinet Secretaries in Education and Lifelong Learning, Health, Wellbeing and Sport and Justice – each of these portfolios being important to the delivery of social work services. I would like to thank Mr Russell, the former Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning for his interest and support for social work and, in particular, his commitment to listening to the views of front line staff. Mr Russell has been replaced by Angela Constance, whose background in social work will be well known to many of you. The Minister for Children and Families, Aileen Campbell, will shortly be going on maternity leave and is currently handing the reins (temporarily) over to Fiona McLeod MSP Strathkelvin and Bearsden who, I had the pleasure of meeting last week. Ms McLeod will chair the next meeting of the Social Work Services Strategic Forum in early February when it is hoped that the new vision and strategy for social services in Scotland will be agreed with the formal launch planned for World Social Work Day on 17 March 2015.
The last fortnight has seen me spending considerably more time in Edinburgh – an opportunity not only to spend more time with my team, but also to participate in a number of policy meetings across the Directorates of Children and Families, Integration and Reshaping Care and Justice.
Improvements in the children’s hearing system, leadership in social work, redesign of community justice and my regular meeting with the Convenor of the Scottish Social Services Council, all continued to highlight the diverse and complex nature of the social work world as well as the considerable change taking place across the whole public sector. A major area of change is in the integration of adult health and social care. It is an enormously complex agenda for all concerned and each of the health and social care partnerships across Scotland faces its own challenges as 1 April 2015 draws ever closer. However no one should forget how much progress has been made over many years in the integration of front line services with many very good examples of where integration has been working well for many years. Let us not throw the baby out with the bath water and make sure to hang on to what has been working well!
During the past week two meetings dominated my thinking. Firstly, members of the Social Work Services Strategic Forum met to consider the draft vision and strategy. Members had a wide ranging discussion on the vision and the four strands which will make up the strategy – workforce, performance, research and public understanding. A wide range of perspectives are not only reflected in the membership but in the discussions. Critically there is a strong commitment and energy to establish a direction of travel for the profession which it is hoped will lead to even greater focus on continuous improvements in the quality of services across sectors and across Scotland. The signs are encouraging!
Finally my week would not be complete without a visit! I made the short journey to West Lothian and enjoyed a stimulating day with Jennifer Scott, the Chief Social Work Officer, and her team. West Lothian has a longstanding culture of improvement and innovation and they have the awards to prove it. A strong emphasis on reablement, technology and effective working with General Practitioners and the ambulance service are all contributing to zero delayed discharges and better outcomes. A strong focus on public protection and in particular on domestic abuse is evident through early intervention and keeping victims safer. I listened to a number of highly enthusiastic and progressive presentations on early years. I was particularly taken with the work being undertaken by the Social Policy Department in conjunction with the St Andrews Society and CELCIS on concurrent placement planning, which aims to shorten the time taken to place children permanently. I will watch the developments with interest, as it is an area of practice where professionals must be much smarter in making early decisions about the future of vulnerable children, with the influence of the wider justice system vital. It was a day well spent in Livingstone – hearing about developments which has kept West Lothian at the forefront of evidenced based practice for many years.
As this is my last Talking Social Services of the year, I would like to thank all of the organisations I have visited over the last twelve months for the time and effort taken by many staff to talk through some tough challenges but also to share their first class practice. There is much that the sector should be proud of but, we do need to share much more of the good practice which is changing people’s lives everyday.
For many the holiday season is just round the corner but for many it is business as usual in supporting those who need it most. Thank you to everyone in social services for all you do throughout the year but in particular over Christmas and New Year.
Have a happy healthy Christmas with very best wishes for 2015.