In my position as the Scottish Government’s Chief Social Work Adviser, I am very privileged to be invited to visit many organisations, large and small, across the length and breadth of Scotland. Without exception, I have always received a genuinely warm welcome from staff and from those who are benefitting from the wide range of skills, knowledge and experience the social services workforce bring both to their organisation and, more importantly, to the people that matter most.
The past fortnight provided several such opportunities, including visits to three organisations which, in different ways, are providing support, advice and interventions to individuals and families, many of whom have faced enormous challenges in their lives. Each of the organisations specialise in a different area of work but all of them work with a focus on early intervention, teamwork and resilience.
My visit to Key Community Supports in Glasgow brought back memories of my days in Springburn and Balornock in the 70s and 80s where I enjoyed many years working in Forresthall Home and Hospital, as well as a Senior Social Worker in the shadows of the now demolished Red Road flats. It was also where three generations of my family lived and worked, but they would not recognise this area which has undergone massive transformation over the past twenty or thirty years. But before I get any more nostalgic, I must return to the subject matter. My visit to the north east of the city was to meet a man whose has spent most of his life in hospital settings. Living in the community initially proved challenging. Indeed, there was a widely held view that this man could not live outwith a hospital or institutionalised environment. However, with the involvement of a number of professionals, a house was specially designed, helping both him and the staff group remain safe in the instances when his anxiety and associated behaviours changed. I observed a team who not only had great respect for the individual being supported, but worked hard in their communication with him and with each other. Their consistency of approach led to health improvements, increased self-motivation to healthy eating, involvement in a range of local activities and he successfully volunteered at the Commonwealth Games in 2014. In the words of the staff: he now has a life and a future!
I also visited Circle Scotland, in the Pilton area of Edinburgh and sat down with three parents, each in their own way having benefitted from the services offered by this organisation which currently provides services to hundreds of families. Over a period of an hour and a half I had the opportunity to listen to the tragic backgrounds of these three individuals and their stories of trying to keep their families together against the odds. Each of the parents had taken considerable risks in referring themselves to Circle, in order to try and deal with, what must seemed like, intractable problems. They told their individual stories with great strength and dignity – ( with not a dry eye in the room! ), each proudly able to acknowledge the role of Circle staff, not just in changing their lives but that of their children who so easily could have ended up being accommodated. I wish Chief Executive Liz Dahl well, following her retirement later in the year and to Rhona Hunter who takes over as Chief Executive.
Each year the team in the Office of the Chief Social Work Adviser spends a day volunteering, learning about the work of a voluntary social services organisation and of course, undertaking a bit of team building! This year the team headed to Leuchie House in North Berwick to help with some painting of bedrooms. Little did we know that our gardening skills would also be required!
Leuchie House provides caring breaks for people with long term neurological conditions, offering personalised 24 hour care within a country house hotel ambiance. Over the last few years, through an enterprising Chief Executive, Mhairi O`Keefe, the Board and committed staff, new funding and stability has been achieved for the service and a determination to continue providing lifeline support to individuals and carers which amounted to 6,200 respite days last year. It is easy to forget sometimes how much Scotland`s charities depend on fund raising to keep essential services running.
Finally, I could not conclude this fortnight`s blog without making reference to the emotional scenes of the care experienced young people, following the First Minister`s speech at the party conference on Saturday. It was very special to see the pride and joy on the faces of these young people, as the First Minister spoke of her commitment to care experienced young people. They are all very talented young individuals who have been prepared to speak about their own experiences to help others. So please allow me to say to organisations like Key Community Supports, Circle Scotland, Leuchie House and Who Cares Scotland – you have my utmost respect. Thank you for all that you do and how much your contribution changed and continues to change, the lives of others.