I 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.
I 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. The 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.
I 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.
1200 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.
My 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? Avoiding 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.