As festival season drew to a close and the streets of Edinburgh became a little more bearable, 800 social workers arrived in the capital as part of the International Federation of Social Workers conference. The three day event supported by both BASW and the Scottish Government, provided a fantastic setting in which the EXPO provided a rich opportunity for Scotland to showcase many of our organisations and excellent practice. Amongst the exhibitors were Emma and Andrew from Dundee Champions Board the voice of care experienced young people in Dundee. In my travels over the last few months it has been encouraging to see the development of similar groups across Scotland. The conference was addressed by the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Angela Constance who, as a social worker by profession was warmly received by the audience, acknowledging the current challenges facing the profession. She highlighted the five Frontline Practitioner Engagement events with Ministers this year. She also took the opportunity to set out clear challenges to social workers and to other key professional groups in respect of child protection in Scotland – something we will hear more about in the coming months!
I had been given a long standing invitation to meet the service users and carers network who are linked to each of the universities where the BA in Social Work is taught. This group of committed service users use much of their own experiences to support the development of student social workers as part of their professional learning. How does it feel to be on the receiving end of services? Something that as social workers and managers we should reflect on throughout our career. The benefits run much further than that of the students, as service users and carers reflected on how much it has benefited them in help grow their confidence!
A further opportunity and long standing invitation was to visit Lothian Villas, a residential unit in Musselburgh, East Lothian run by Andy Thorpe and his Depute Max for the last 20 years. Andy and I met a few years ago when both of us were invited to Ankara,Turkey through UNICEF to participate in a conference organised for the Turkish Government. There is a another blog’s worth of stories from the trip – but that is for another day! What shone through in Turkey was Andy’s values, commitment, leadership skills and most importantly his focus on outcomes for the young people in his care. This had stuck with me over a period of years making it a ‘ must do ‘ in my role as Chief Social Work Adviser. At times the sector talks somewhat glibly about hanging on to children regardless of their words or actions. Lothian Villas practices what it preaches within an ethos of care and responsibility and in a place you can truly call home – something that many of our care population have been bereaved of. “This will always be your home and your family when you need it” was in evidence when one of the care leavers popped in for a chat along with her young son. Lothian Villas has benefited from strong, effective and committed leadership over a period of 20 years backed by a team of highly skilled practitioners in whom there has been considerable investment to develop evidenced based practice with heaps of love thrown in! Like so many of the good practice examples I have observed the length and breadth of Scotland, how does the sector bottle this and spread it across Scotland. If you want to visit Lothian Villas, I know Andy and Max will be delighted to welcome you.
The third meeting of the National Strategic Social Services Forum took place in Edinburgh, chaired by Aileen Campbell, Minister for Children and Young People, recently returned from maternity leave. The Forum continues to be a strong and committed voice for the sector. The Forum is beginning to see make progress in each of the four areas identified; workforce; quality and performance; research and promoting public understanding. Over the coming months I will set the progress out in my blog.
The 5th Frontline Practitioners Engagement event took place in my old stomping ground of Dundee, with around 70 staff and students from across Tayside participating in what the Minister described on twitter as a “robust, interesting and insightful discussion.” Nearly 500 social work staff have participated in the events this year. Not only have they provided a worthwhile networking opportunity for those attending but they have also added to the Strategy’s Implementation Plan. A summary report now being prepared will continue to link the views of frontline staff to the development of the sector in Scotland. Worth noting that we will be holding two front line events with Occupational Therapists February 2016.
Finally, I took the opportunity to participate and contribute to the Leadership Development programme for social work managers at the magnificent setting of Ardoch House. This programme is one of the actions from the Strategy and is helping build leaders for the future. I took part in an action learning set and an effective presentation workshop with theatre director Amanda. Have you ever tried to speak to an audience with someone holding your hips?