Where Has the Time Gone?


Photograph of Alan BairdI find it hard to believe my four years in Scottish Government is almost at an end. But if I had been able to select a period to be Chief Social Work Adviser I could not have picked a more exciting period, either professionally or politically.

From a professional perspective, the much heralded integration of health and social care – so vital for improving services to individuals –  is already making considerable progress through excellent collaborative leadership and with it bringing much needed changes in culture and practice. Self directed support is enabling greater choice, empowerment and control for individuals.  Similar to H&SC Integration it is a challenging piece of legislation to implement, but where it is working well it is undoubtedly improving the opportunities for both individual and carers. Both of these pieces of legislation are changing lives for the better. Equally on the children`s services side, the drive towards prevention and  early intervention has now been underpinned by the Children`s Act and, with an ever increasing commitment to early years, there is greater optimism for the future life chances for Scotland`s young children. What about the Named Person, the Child Protection Improvement Programme, the excellent work of PACE and the root and branch review of the care system? So much work in progress!

Finally, the redesign of community justice builds on the work of the Community Justice Authorities with key drivers being collaborative partnerships and closer alignment to local communities through local Community Planning Partnerships.  Through Karyn McCluskey`s leadership in Community Justice Scotland, which officially opens its doors next week, we can expect, like children`s services, to see greater emphasis on prevention and early intervention. There will also be a continuing drive to tackling the underlying problems of offending as well as building robust, consistent and high quality community sentences.

Whilst policy and legislation has moved on a pace the political agenda has hardly been sluggish with two referendums, Scottish Government elections and further devolved powers following the outcome of the Smith Commission. As you can imagine there has been no shortage of discussion points over coffee and I suspect that over the next four years it will be every bit as fascinating and potentially controversial.

So it is with a sense of sadness, but also anticipation, that my four years as CSWA draws to a close, as does a 19 year spell with Dundee City Council which brought me a great deal of satisfaction and a few tears along the road. However this final blog is primarily about the last four years, which have given me the opportunity to use my experience of the previous 34 years in social work services to further influence, advise and help develop the 203,000 strong sector in Scotland.

Blog 29 Aug 1I have many wonderful memories from the visits I’ve made to services around the country. Too many to mention here but undoubtedly the best memories have been the engagement with children and young people who found a voice to tell their story, and with it found their confidence and self-esteem. The adults with learning disabilities who found their confidence through music and  the choices given to them through self-directed support. photo IFSW AlanThe offender returning to  work as a volunteer with a children`s charity having completed Community Payback. The single mother of five suffering from  depression who was brave enough to seek help, knowing that she might lose care of her children. The carer who gave up her house and job to care for her partner under 60 with Alzheimer’s. There are many more stories of inspiration, joy and of course sadness but each in their own way uplifting and testament to staff working tirelessly every day. Thank you for sharing your time, your knowledge and at times your frustrations too.

IMG_6185I am most appreciative of the support and encouragement given to me by Ministers, colleagues in Scottish Government and senior and frontline staff across the sectors. All have provided me with encouragement and first class advice to help build a more cohesive, confident and stronger sector at a time when staff are worried about the future. Establishing the national Social Services Strategic Forum and publishing it’s Vision and Strategy for Social Services:2015-2020 will I hope bring further strength to the sector as well the voice of frontline staff in influencing change.

supervision-11200 practitioners over the past three years have contributed to the success of our practitioner engagement events – a series which began modestly in Stornaway with the Cabinet Secretary for Education, Mike Russell and 15 practitioners. Ministers have consistently continued to support these events, listening to the challenges faced by staff in the frontline today. Equally important has been listening to the voice of social care staff and I am delighted that Scottish Care, through Katharine Ross, and CCPS have developed a support network which, with the very significant challenges facing social care, will I hope help influence future developments.

I have been very fortunate to work closely with two  Children and Families Directors – Mike Foulis and Olivia McLeod. Both have provided me with excellent, support, advice and encouragement. I am grateful to both of them.

xmasMy final and biggest thanks must go to my small but perfectly formed team in the Office of the Chief Social Work Adviser who have had a lot to put up with over four years but have given me tremendous back up, advice and lots of laughs. Quite simply without them the progress made would not have been possible. I look forward to celebrating my departure with them in the coming weeks. I’m bracing myself!

Before I disappear over the next two weeks I will be delighted to welcome Iona Colvin who begins her period of secondment on Monday 3 April. I wish Iona lots of luck as CSWA and I know you will give her as much support as you have given me.

Inevitably, friends and colleagues have asked me what next? CHAS-logoAvoiding the builders who will be making lots of mess at the house over the next few weeks will be a priority, so golf lessons have been arranged and I am hoping to take a course in digital photography. I will also continue to support the work of the Children`s Hospice Association Scotland. I do however hope I can continue to contribute to the development of the sector in Scotland as I feel I have very fortunate to have enjoyed all  (well nearly all) of the last 42 years in social work. But even for a short time, it is time to take a step back.

With very best wishes and sincere thanks.



Preparing for Change

Following the announcement in late February, I am delighted to report that Iona Colvin has been appointed as the new Chief Social Work Adviser to the Scottish Government.

Iona`s experience as Director of North Ayrshire Health and Social Care Partnership and Integrated Joint Board Chief Officer will be an asset to the Scottish Government, as will her leadership qualities be to the wider sector over the next few years. The future of the sector will be in good hands and I look forward to having time with Iona before my departure in Mid April.

I am also delighted that over 150 nominations were received for the new Scottish Social 19-dec-blog-5Services Awards, which is taking place on 13 June 2017 at the Crieff Hydro. Entries were wide spread throughout the sector and sparked interest from the length and breadth of Scotland – a very encouraging response for the first year.

Attention has now turned to the challenging task of shortlisting from a high quality field. Under the leadership of Anna Fowlie Blog 1the workforce judging panel were first off the mark and considered a sizeable number of entries in the ‘Living the Codes’, ‘Bright Spark’ and ‘Enlightened Approach’ categories.  If the entries in these three categories are anything to go by, then I look forward to seeing the full shortlist for all ten categories which will be announced next month.  Members of the Strategic Forum will then decide the winners ahead of the Award Ceremony in June.  The awards will be preceded by a  Social Services Expo showcasing excellent practice across local authorities, independent and third sectors.  This will be a free event for practitioners to attend, further details to follow in due course.

Last week heralded my last meeting of the National Social Work Services Strategic Forum,Blog 2 chaired by the Minister for Childcare and Early Years, Mark McDonald. The Forum continues to be core to the further development of the sector in Scotland, remaining alive and responsive to the very fluid world we are all working in.  It is equally vital that the Forum review its membership and to this end I am delighted to welcome Karyn McCluskey, Chief Executive Community Justice Scotland to the Forum.

Karyn`s experience will increase the profile of criminal justice social work at a time of considerable change for the sector and an area which requires closer connection to the Forum`s work. It is a timely reminder of the imminent changes when Community Justice Scotland formally replaces the Community Justice Authorities at the beginning of April this year.

Turning a little nostalgic for a moment, I think back to a time when I, along with Colin McKenzie, former Chief Executive of Aberdeenshire Council and David Crawford, formerly Director of Social Work at Glasgow City Council, worked closely with the Scottish Government when the creation of a national agency was one of the options being proposed.

It was vital then and remains vital now, that community justice (including criminal justice services) are developed and delivered locally. To this end the Community Justice Authorities successfully brought together key agencies to help tackle the underlying causes of offending behaviour. Community Justice Scotland and locally based services, will help bring about greater consistency, leadership, staff development and most importantly, a strong emphasis on prevention.  Good luck to colleagues leaving the CJAs at the end of March and I wish them all well in the future.

As my time in Scottish Government comes to an end next month, preparation is now underway to help ease my successor into her new role. We will have an overlap over the first couple of weeks when I will pass on the tremendous opportunity that the post of Chief Social Work Adviser brings.

My last blog will be posted at the end of March which will reflect on a busy and productive past four years. Until then, enjoy the increasingly light mornings and evenings as Easter beckons.


Trees That Bend In The Wind

Work is underway by the Social Work Services Strategic Forum to review progress and, th-blog-4where necessary, refresh the actions of the Vision and Strategy for Social Services in Scotland, to ensure they remain relevant and useful – more news on this after the next Forum meeting in March 2017.

I met recently with Ian Welsh, Chief Executive of The Alliance to follow blog-10up on their successful event in November 2016 which examined the Audit Scotland report `Social Work in Scotland` This report, written for local government, remains significant and requires a continuing focus by the sector, given the very real challenges facing social services in Scotland at this time.

In my last blog I highlighted the new Scottish Social Services Awards – an opportunity to showcase the excellent practice in services for children, adults, older people and criminal justice. The ten innovative award categories are not only designed to promote an 19-dec-blog-5individual, team or organisation, but also to build on the successes you may have already had in your own organisation`s awards over the last couple of years. Details of how to enter can be found on the Awards website:  SSSAwards.scot  Read also more about the Awards on the guest blogs from some of the judges, featuring Jane Devine of Social Work Scotland, and Claire Lightowler of The Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice.

Remember – entries must be in by 28 February 2017.


A visit to Perth and Kinross Council in January provided an opportunity to catch up with Chief Social Work Officer, Bill Aitkinson and Jacquie Pepper, Head of Children`s Services. Perth and Kinross set the bar high in relation to their progressive approaches to service development and high standards of service.  This was especially evident during visits to their joint substance misuse and community payback teams, as well as the respite unit for children with learning disabilities, for which Woodlea Cottage achieved a marking of ‘excellent’ in the categories that were assessed in their Care Inspectorate Inspection Report.


Last Friday I met a long standing commitment to meet up with Anna Houston, Managing blog-3Director, Carewatch based in North Ayrshire and covering a number of local authorities in the West of Scotland. These are some of the most challenging times for providers as they juggle priorities and challenges and I appreciated the opportunity to meet with staff on their induction week along with a range of experienced colleagues over lunch.  Whilst there are many frustrations for staff, I never fail to be impressed by the passion they have for caring and supporting our most vulnerable citizens.  I spokeblog-9 about the often difficult subject of end of life care and asked: How do we better support our care staff?  How do employers help their staff to grieve in the immediate aftermath of the experience of finding someone they are caring for, had passed away when they arrive for what would be, a routine visit.

The newly published report from Scottish Care: “Trees that Bend in the Wind” explores the experience of front line support workers delivering end of life care. Scottish Care blog-2hosted an event for more than 120 frontline staff on Wednesday where they launched the report and provided an opportunity to discuss the key recommendations from the report. I was privileged to speak at the conference and to take the analogy of staff feeling that they are like trees bending in the wind, I suggested our trees need strong routes, well fed and watered and planted together to form forests. Forests are stronger together and more likely to thrive for a longer and more sustained period of growth!  Perhaps it applies much wider than end of life care as we need to face the challenges of caring in Scotland in 2017.

Between now and the end of March there will be two more Talking Social Services blogs which will, amongst other things, reflect on my last four years as Chief Social Work Adviser to the Scottish Government.

Well done to Scotland`s rugby team for a good match played on Saturdayblog-1. We remain a nation of optimists.


New Year – New Awards



The new year might only be two weeks old, but plans are already progressing at a pace to celebrate the incredible work undertaken by the social service sector.

A key event this year to recognise and celebrate the work and achievements of thesssawards-logo workforce, will be the Scottish Social Services Awards, which will take place on 13 June 2017 in Crieff, hosted by Sally Magnusson.

Valuing the workforce was a key message at the last hearing of the Health and Sport Committee Inquiry into the Social and Community Care Workforce and when the Social Work Services Strategic Forum met in June last year, it was agreed that these Awards will provide an opportunity to demonstrate the value of the sector and highlight the commitment of those who work within it and the very real difference they make to people’s lives.

These Awards will complement existing awards held by individual organisations and will be national Awards by the sector for the sector, which incorporate and are inclusive of all parts of the workforce.

The Awards opened yesterday for nominations and I’d encourage you to take a look, particularly at the categories which are equally innovative, including ‘Bright spark, for an individual who is new to social services but is already making a real difference to someone’s life, ‘Silo buster’, to recognise joined up thinking, working and delivering during a time of integration and change and ‘The untold story, to celebrate the unsung hero or inspiring individual who may think they are just doing their job.

You can nominate an individual, a team or organisation, or you can even nominate yourself, even if you’ve been nominated or won an award in the past year. So whether you17-jan-blog-5 are in the voluntary or independent sector, or employed by a local authority, the Awards will be about showcasing innovation and good practice, of which I have frequently seen so many examples as I have travelled throughout the country meeting with frontline staff.

17-jan-blog-9Updates and information on how to enter can be found at sssa.scot, or follow progress of nominations on twitter at @SSSAwards and #SSSA17

In welcoming the launch of the new Awards, Mark McDonald, Minister for Childcare and Early Years said:

“The life changing and challenging work undertaken by the people who work across our social services cannot, and should not, be underestimated.   This valuable work  is crucial to creating a more equal and socially just Scotland.  The people in this sector should be justifiably proud of the work they do.

“It is therefore right that we start 2017 by launching the Scottish Social Services Awards so that we all have an opportunity to recognise this valuable workforce. These new Awards will be a great opportunity to demonstrate the excellent work going on across the sector and how people are using all of their values, knowledge and skills to support real improvement in people’s lives. 

“Every day I see examples of the what the people in this sector do to support some of our most vulnerable people – these Awards are the chance to hear their stories and recognise the difference they are making to people’s lives. There’s a lot to be proud of in our social services, and I look forward to meeting the winners at the Awards ceremony in June 2017.”

The Award ceremony on 13 June 2017 will be preceded by a mini Expo event to highlight the work of the sector and provide an opportunity to share good practice. There will be a mixture of workshops and speakers as well as a market place showcasing innovative services and approaches.  Further details on this will follow in due course.


Looking ahead, 2017 will see us plan the way forward for the Vision and Strategy for Social Services 2015-2020 and in November last year, Forum members and colleagues from across the sector attended a workshop to consider and discuss a refresh of the actions within the Vision and Strategy.  We reviewed what the Strategy has achieved thus far and we discussed the changing external landscape and what new actions were needed to address key issues.

In the coming weeks I plan to visit Perth and Kinross Council, managers and frontline practitioners at Dumfries and Galloway Council, Carewatch in Stevenson and a workshop arranged by NHS Highland which will focus on improvement and capacity.

I look forward to seeing you all at the Scottish Social Services Awards in June!


Countdown to Christmas

19-dec-blog-1With the festive season fast approaching, the last couple of weeks saw a slowing down of what has been an extensive programme of visits over the past twelve months. During the course of this financial year my office managed to arrange over 45 visits for me around Scotland 19-dec-blog-8and my meetings with local authorities incorporated further visits to private, independent and third sector organisations.

In the last few weeks I called on three highly interesting and informative organisations – North Merchiston Care Home in Edinburgh, Aberdeenshire Council and Alzheimer’s Scotland`s Bridgeton Resource Centre.  Each provided a warm welcome and in keeping with every visit I’ve made, I left with something to think about and share with the wider sector.

During a full programme at North Merchiston, I had the opportunity to view some of the19-dec-blog-2 short videos prepared for the recent Scottish Care conference.  They are short films made by the talented filmmaker Duncan Cowles, whose warm and empathetic recording style provided residents with an opportunity to reflect on parts of their lives.  I understand there wasn`t a dry eye in the house at the conference – and now I know why!

Fraserburgh and Banff were the locations selected for me during my visit to Aberdeenshire Council.  The opportunity to meet with the Adult Care Management Team, Family Support and members of the Mental Health Team all contributed to an excellent day.  A particular highlight was 19-dec-blog-3meeting staff of Inspire 27, a social enterprise company on the High Street of Banff town centre.  This craft shop was born from a consultation on a move away from traditional day care provision towards more personalised services for adults with learning disabilities.  It is now a retail shop with workshop facilities where crafts are made and sold by individuals who use this service and in total around 140 craft makers sell their products here, making it a very successful enterprise which provides a stimulus for Banff High St.  Congratulations to all involved and if you are in Banff, the staff will be delighted to welcome you.

If you know the east-end of Glasgow of old, it is not difficult to visualise the pubs which dominated the landscape of these areas and which were often situated on the corner of the19-dec-blog-4 busiest streets. That is exactly the site of Alzheimer Scotland`s Bridgeton Resource Centre – an appropriate setting for an organisation so closely associated with the growing challenges of Dementia which face us today.  Whilst most of us tend to associate dementia with the over 65s, Karen, who is supported by the centre, reminded me of the acute challenges for those who care for individuals with early onset dementia.  Karen shared many of the practical, emotional and significant financial challenges that she and her partner face on a daily basis.  Alzheimer Scotland provides a lifeline to so many people and families in Scotland and it may well be an organisation that many of us will require to seek support from in the future.

Regular readers will know that I try to share through this blog, examples of the excellent practice I see on my visits and that I pass on these examples during my discussions and meetings which form such an important part of my role as Chief Social Work Adviser.

19-dec-blog-5The sharing of excellent practice will be the basis for The Scottish Social Services Awards which will be launched on 16 January 2017 and take place on 13 June 2017 at the Crieff Hydro Hotel.  The awards are facilitated by the Social Work Services Strategic Forum and you will be able to enter as an individual, a team or an organisation, or you can even nominate anyone from the sector you think should be considered for an award.  19-dec-blog-6

A full website with more details on how to enter is coming soon, but in the meantime you can register your email contacts at www.sssa.scot and follow the twitter feed @SSSAwards

As 2017 draws to a close I would like to take the opportunity to thank all of you who have welcomed both me and members of my team to your organisations.

I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting everyone on my travels and I am inspired by the passion, the skills and the determination of all those who work to change the lives of so many of our most vulnerable citizens. The current challenges for the sector are significant, however, I continue to be humbled by the willpower and high degree of motivation throughout the local authorities, independent and third sectors.19-dec-blog-7

In closing, I wish you and your families the very best for the festive season and a healthy and happy New Year when it comes.

Best wishes,


Business As Usual

A25-nob-blog-12s I have indicated both on twitter and in my blog, I will be leaving my post as Chief Social Work Adviser in April next year. I believe that after four years in this post, it is time for someone with recent field experience to bring fresh thinking to this post at a time when the role of the sector has never been so vital.  This however, is not the right time to be reflective, as I intend to make further progress on a number of fronts over the next few months and, as you will read, the last couple of weeks has seen no reduction on the demands on my time over the past two weeks.  Details of the post can be found here.

Turning Point Scotland was the focus of a day of visits in Glasgow. An organisation which continues to grow and develop over nineteen years through the leadership of Netta McIvor and more recently Martin Cawley, who recently left to take up the post of Chief Executive of Big Lottery Scotland.  Neil Richardson OBE, former Deputy Chief Constable will take the reins in January as Chief Executive.  Our day with TPS provided a tremendous learning opportunity in relation to the Drug Crisis Centre and their approach to homelessness, underpinned by Citizenship and the strong commitment to the 5R`s: Rights, Responsibilities, Roles, Relationships, Resources and the sense of belonging.

This innovative model for community integration and social inclusion was developed by the Yale Programme for recovery and Community Health. These 5 critical components 25-nov-blog-1were exemplified by volunteers, Craig and Collette whose lives and families have been transformed by the Turning Point Connects Programme. Thank you to both of them for being prepared to share their journey with us.  TPS are now building Citizenship into the culture of the organisation.  It will be interesting to revisit TPS over the next couple of years to follow developments!

Even in the wind, rain and a bumpy landing, it is always a pleasure to visits the islands of Orkney and Shetland. It is two years since I last visited but in this relatively short time 25-nov-blog-4both islands are facing up to the challenges of integration, both have appointed their Chief Officers (IJBs) and both have new CSWOs.  Each continues to face up to the challenges of recruitment and it was refreshing to see so many newly qualified social workers in Shetland – products of their `grow your own` policies`.  I was delighted to speak with the newly reformed Local Practitioner Forum on the Strategy for Social Services in Scotland.

In Lerwick we were pleased to visit the award winning children`s house, complete with25-nov-blog-2 their recent award from SIRCC as Residential Team of the Year SIRCC. Flight times unfortunately did not allow us the opportunity to stay and meet with the young people, but it was good to hear of their strong connection with Who Cares Scotland.

25-nov-blog-13By the skin of my teeth I managed to reach Glasgow in time to join Angela Morgan, Chief Executive of Includem and their HR Director, Michelle Nairn, who had been shortlisted for HR Director of the Year Award at the Scottish HR Network Awards. Michelle`s inclusion in the final shortlist of three was a major achievement at what was a night dominated by the private sector.  Congratulations Michelle!

Not to be outdone, Scottish Care held their Annual Care Home conference and awards last week. It was Chief Executive Donald Mcaskill`s first Care Home awards since taking over25-nov-blog-6 from the irrepressible Ranald Mair.  As always staff celebrated in some style in the capable hands of Michelle McManus – no one better to handle such an occasion!

My attendance at the awards was preceded by a visit to HC1`s Greenpark Home in Glasgow. Meeting staff and residents is always a pleasure as is hearing stories of Glasgow`s past! Greenfield Park is a unique set-up with Intermediate care, continuing care, residential care and a unit for adults who have been affected by sustained substance abuse.  An important focus for the visit was career pathways for staff and the opportunity to ensure developmental opportunities, which Greenfield Park have worked hard to achieve to the benefits of residents and staff.



On Monday I opened a practitioner engagement event in Glasgow facilitated by my office, focussing on the knowledge and improvement cycle and how this can be applied to bring 25-nov-blog-10about transformational change. John Carnochan, formerly of the Violence Reduction Unit, delivered an inspirational keynote address reminding us that it’s people and attitudes, particularly their willingness to enquire and challenge established practice,  that make a real difference, and that change shouldn’t be held back by being afraid of failure.  Discussions were facilitated on the day by knowledge and improvement leads from IRISS, NHS, Scottish Government, and the Improvement Service.  Knowledge exchange sessions saw input from CELCIS, IRISS, SSKS, Improvement Service and Care Opinion.  The Scottish 25-nov-blog-9Government’s Ann Wales and Belinda Robertson, along with presentations from East-Ayrshire’s Chief Social Work Officer, Susan Taylor, as well as Kristina Moodie from the Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice, and research25-nov-blog-8 25-nov-blog-7consultant Ailsa Cook, provided perspectives and live examples of using knowledge into action and research to improve and transform services.

Finally – it was a pleasure to participate in the Renfrewshire Council social work staff 25-nob-blog-15conference last Friday. An opportunity to meet up with Director of Children`s Services, Peter MacLeod and staff, to look at the current challenges and implications for the sector including the recently published Account Commission report `Social Work in Scotland`

More from Talking Social Services in a fortnight when I will be reflecting on visits to Aberdeenshire Council, a private nursing home in Edinburgh and meeting up with Alzheimer’s Scotland.

Until then, best of luck with the Christmas shopping!


Departure from Scottish Government

I want to let you know that April 2017 will see the completion of my secondment  from Dundee City Council to my role as Chief Social Work Adviser to Scottish Government.   I will be sorry to be completing my time in the role as it has been a real privilege – enabling me to see policy-making in the heart of government and also to engage directly with people and organisations right across the wide range of social services.  The recruitment exercise for my successor is underway and I know that it provides a great opportunity  for someone new to provide Scottish Government with a fresh perspective on the complex, diverse and challenging world  of social services in Scotland.  A sector which will require to demonstrate strong and effective  leadership both at a local and national level.  This post provides a tremendous opportunity to influence and support developments in the sector over the next few years.

The post details can be accessed here