- The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh):
I call on the Minister for Education and Young People, Peter Peacock, to open the debate.
- The Minister for Education and Young People (Peter Peacock):
I am delighted to have this debate at an important moment for Scottish social work. On Tuesday, I published the first major review of social work since the implementation of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968, which was regarded by many people as the birth of modern social work. Our starting point in commissioning the 21st century social work review group was the growing concern about the direction of social work services, which was characterised by a lack of clarity about the role and expectations of social services and was compounded by inadequate inspection and increasing demand.
In a debate on social work some 18 months ago, members shared those concerns and set some challenging aspirations for the 21st century social work review group. The review group rose to that challenge and has delivered clear—indeed, stark—messages on social work services in Scotland and how they need to change.
The review group's work led to three clear conclusions. First, more of the same will not work; the way we currently respond and deliver social services will be unsustainable in the future. Secondly, the basis of how services are organised needs to change. Thirdly, social work does not have all the answers: other professions must be involved in finding the answers to many of our community and individual problems.
The review's recommendations will demand changes across the public sector and beyond. Those changes will bring professionals, services and agencies together in a concerted, joined-up effort. They will also build new capacity in individuals, families and communities, and will focus more on preventing problems before they become crises.
The report makes it clear that we are far from making the best use of the social workers' skills. We must therefore ensure that social workers spend their time on activities that make effective use of their therapeutic skills and which help their clients make real and lasting changes.
The review has been a major work that has been conducted over the course of a year, with unprecedented levels of engagement by interested parties. The engagement of people who use social services and their carers was particularly rewarding—the clarity of their vision was impressive and the messages they gave shaped the conclusions of the review.
The messages that were received by the review group were consistent and the views and aspirations of service users mirror those of social workers, managers and partner agencies. Despite the excellent work and commitment of people across the country, services are not consistently doing the right things well and we are not making effective use of our scarce resource of social workers.
The social work profession lacks confidence in itself and is uncertain about its role. We have, sadly, seen high-profile service failures that have led to tragedy which has, as a consequence, compounded the problem by making social services more averse to risk. There is a lack of enabling leadership—that limits and constrains the practice and autonomy of professionals. Services do not focus sufficiently on achieving the right outcomes for people.
A major conclusion of the review is that we need to move away from the damaging effects of the blame culture in social work. Rather than dig over the reasons why our social services are in the position that is succinctly stated in the report, I hope that we can look to the future of Scottish social work.
- Fiona Hyslop (Lothians) (SNP):
Last year the First Minister indicated that senior social workers and directors may face jail or severe civil penalties if there are shortcomings in their social work departments. If we are moving away from a blame culture, will that approach be dropped?
- Peter Peacock:
I do not recall the specific point to which Fiona Hyslop refers. However, we cannot apportion blame for circumstances that have arisen and were reported by the review. We need to move forward collectively and in unison to look for a stronger and more professional social work service in the future. That is what we are determined to do. So important is the review that I decided to publish an immediate response alongside it. The Executive does not want the review to gather dust on a shelf; rather, it wants it to be the catalyst for action.
The review's 13 recommendations set out a challenging agenda of cultural change. That agenda will require change not just in social work services but across the public sector. We must all accept that social work services alone cannot deliver our aspirations—indeed, almost everything they do must be done in partnership with others. We must also accept that it is not always the fault of social work services when something goes wrong. We as individuals, families and communities have personal and collective responsibilities that we cannot expect to offload on to social workers. However, we can expect at key moments in our lives to have the support of skilled social workers to help us through difficult moments. More often than not, the failures that occur are failures of the whole system, but in our society's rush to apportion blame, social work often receives the brunt of any criticism.
Significantly, the recommendations do not impose structural change, although they do create the right environment to redesign services to better meet the needs of citizens who use them at local level. Our response welcomes the findings of the review and sets out our commitment to respond decisively to them.
The change programme for social work services that we will support is based on 12 key actions. We will establish a system for setting national priorities in social work as a basis for providing clarity of purpose and prioritising future action. We will create a new performance improvement framework to place a culture of continuous improvement at the heart of service delivery. We have seen the benefits of that approach in driving forward the education sector, and we need to help social work services to learn some of those lessons.
We will support a programme of social service redesign at local level on an interagency basis. Through supporting local change, we can transform services to meet the needs of individuals more effectively. We can do that through improved access, a stronger role for carers and much increased emphasis on building people's capacity to be self-sufficient. We will invest in developing the leadership that the profession will need in the future and we will develop strong leadership that empowers front-line staff while supporting them to find creative solutions for the people with whom they work.
We will strengthen the role of the chief social work officer and emphasise our responsibility for professional leadership and governance as well as for the current statutory roles. The role of chief social work officer is crucial and will help by being the guardian of the highest possible standards of professional practice into the future. We will create, with partners, the framework of support for front-line social workers to give them more devolved authority and to allow them to operate more autonomously within an accountable framework. That will, in turn, enable them to be more effective in helping the vulnerable people with whom they work.
We will support the creation of opportunities for skilled front-line social workers to remain in front-line practice for the whole of their careers. Our most experienced practitioners will be able to progress in challenging and varied careers while using their advanced skills to help the most vulnerable people. We will encourage the development of a new group of paraprofessionals to work under the direction of social workers and in support of their actions. I stress that they will work under the direction of social workers and will not replace them. That will free professionals to do the things that they are specially skilled and trained to do, and will at the same time improve the responsiveness of services and improve access to them.
We will promote ever more involvement by service users and carers in making decisions and choices about their care and in influencing the design and delivery of services. They will, in effect, become co-producers of services. We also expect our universities to work together and with stakeholders to review current programmes of education and training to ensure that they equip the next generation of professionals with the skills that they will need. We want our universities to be an active part of the change process. We will legislate to give ministers and Parliament powers in setting national priorities and the performance improvement framework. We will help to refocus legislation to emphasise the improvement of personal and community well-being as the key purposes of social work.
If the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 was the birth of social work, the new legislation must mark its coming of age. The legislation will encourage the development of social services that are based on principles of well-being rather than on welfare; an emphasis on agreed priorities and user-centred outcomes to drive performance improvement; and the establishment of social work as a mature and confident profession that is backed up by new governance arrangements.
Finally, we will deliver additional resources to support the change process following further consideration of a detailed implementation plan on which we will work with stakeholders over the coming months. The approach will need a new focus on practice governance that promotes excellence, organisational learning and effective risk management, and which enables and empowers leadership at all levels.
Our change programme is a long-term programme, not just for the rest of this session but for the whole of the next session, and it is set within the context of wider public sector change and reform, which is driving services to be better integrated, more personalised and much more focused on prevention.
- Mary Scanlon (Highlands and Islands) (Con):
The minister just mentioned public sector change. Recommendation 4 of the review suggests that services must become part of a public sector-wide approach. Surely that does not exclude the voluntary sector. Will the minister take this opportunity to ensure that his statement is not misleading?
- Peter Peacock:
Absolutely. I agree with what Mary Scanlon said. The range of partners in the public sector in social work, education, health and the police, in the private sector, which increasingly provides services, and in the voluntary sector—which now provides the majority of services in some places—needs to be part of a partnership approach, as do users and carers.
The review has said that more of the same will not work, so we must ensure that we do not just do more of the same while placing new demands and expectations on local services. We will achieve our aspirations only when we can be sure that we are making the best use of the £2.4 billion that we already spend every year on our social work services. We must therefore invest wisely to drive the necessary change.
I asked for the debate today because although the scale of the challenge that we face in making real and lasting change is clear, the fine detail of how we will achieve it requires further debate and discussion. The actions that we propose represent long-term change and are not a quick fix, because it will take a long time to make the cultural and other changes that we want to see. We need a programme that will involve all the partners in the detailed work and further debate.
I have committed to the production of a full implementation plan by the summer. Today, Parliament can help to shape its detail and can influence the relative priority of its different components. A Cabinet delivery group, which I will chair, will oversee implementation at Cabinet level and will drive forward interdepartmental action within the Government. In addition, we will seek to create a national forum on which all the stakeholders in social services can come together to help us drive the necessary changes.
I hope that our debate, which follows the publication of the report, will represent the start of a programme of change and renewal that will build much stronger social services for the future and give us services that we can truly be proud of and which we will be proud to use, rather than looking on them as services of last resort.
- Mr Adam Ingram (South of Scotland) (SNP):
The Scottish National Party welcomes the debate, which comes hard on the heels of the publication of, "Changing Lives: Report of the 21st Century Social Work Review". The report's stark finding—which the minister mentioned—that the current social work system is unsustainable, is surely an indictment of the policies of successive United Kingdom Governments of the past 40 years. However, it should come as no surprise to members, who have regular dealings with the services that are involved.
There can be little doubt that public confidence in social work is at a low ebb, having been badly shaken by the failings that have been exposed by several tragic high-profile cases in recent years, such as the sexual abuse over 30 years of a Borders woman with learning difficulties and the murder of the Edinburgh toddler Caleb Ness by his father, which subsequent investigations revealed were eminently preventable.
Although individuals can be blamed, the "Changing Lives" report reveals a wider and deeper system failure of placing heavy burdens on dedicated front-line social work staff, who are often overwhelmed by the sheer volume and complexity of demand for their services.
Forty years ago, the current social work system was set up very much as a safety net for a society that was broadly cohesive. We would be hard pushed today to so describe our society, in which the incidences of poverty, dysfunctional relationships and chaotic lifestyles have seemingly grown out of control.
The fact that the Executive has chosen its flagship policy to be control of antisocial behaviour is surely symptomatic of the type of society in which we now live, although—if I may say so—it also smacks of treating the symptoms rather than the fundamental causes of the problems. In any case, it is profoundly misguided to blame social work professionals for failing to cope with those trends.
Last night, many of us met the chairpeople of our local children's panels, who are lobbying us in advance of the forthcoming report on the children's hearings system. Their frustration is palpable and is due to both the lack of public awareness of the good work that they do and the inadequacy of the resources that are deployed to meet the needs of the children who are referred to them. It is staggering that, last year, more than 50,000 of our children were referred to a children's reporter. Compared with the previous year, there was a 12 per cent increase in the number of referrals on care and protection grounds alone. Those are truly shocking figures. We must respond much more effectively to the needs of those children and, as the minister said, our response must be integrated throughout all public services, including health services, social work, education and the police. Much lip service is paid to joint working, but progress is painfully slow.
The "Changing Lives" report talks about the transformation of social work from crisis management to prevention and early intervention. That is a laudable aim, but the report comes up short on answering the question of how it can be achieved. No doubt we will have to wait for the promised implementation plan before we can make hard and fast judgments. That said, the SNP takes the view that the development of universal early years services is vital. The Executive made a reasonable start with free nursery places for three and four-year-olds, but we are disappointed that the momentum subsequently stalled.
In the remainder of my speech, I will focus on some of the more detailed issues that are highlighted in the report. Chief among them is resources. Professor Arthur Midwinter has identified serious underfunding of local authority social work services; he estimates that there is a shortfall of £135 million for children and families services alone. It is little wonder that such chronic underfunding has resulted in chronic staff shortages. So many vacancies remain unfilled that some departments are operating with 40 per cent of their posts vacant, which compromises their ability to provide basic services. There are also insufficient numbers of foster carers, residential care beds and day care facilities.
The Executive is keen to take up the report's recommendation that a new performance improvement framework should be introduced. That has echoes of the Standards in Scotland's Schools etc Act 2000, which introduced to school education the notion of continuous improvement. As yet, however, there is no hint of an accompanying McCrone-type deal for social work professionals that would cover pay, conditions and continuous professional development. Such a deal would help to underpin the change agenda.
- The Deputy Minister for Education and Young People (Robert Brown):
Before the member leaves the issue of resources—which underlies quite a lot of the report—will he comment on the fact that the social care workforce has increased by about 44 per cent in the past decade? That is a significant increase.
- Mr Ingram:
The problem is that the Executive is not providing local authorities with sufficient funding for them to fulfil their obligations. Professor Midwinter estimates that local authorities are underfunded by 50 per cent, according to their grant-aided expenditure allocations.
I return to the ways in which we reward social work professionals, which must be addressed if there is to be an end to the ludicrous bidding wars between local authorities on the recruitment and retention of staff. As Mary Scanlon said, that also has a serious knock-on effect on voluntary organisations, many of which employ social workers. We also need to see an end to the worrying trend of able and experienced social workers being sucked away from the front line and into promoted posts that are better remunerated and less stressful, but which are arguably less important.
We welcome the report's findings and recommendations, and we welcome the agenda for change that it sets out. However, we remain sceptical of the Executive's intentions, particularly in the short term, given its track record of less-than-generous support for social work services.
- Mary Scanlon (Highlands and Islands) (Con):
We welcome this review of social work, which is the first in nearly 40 years. The Scottish Conservatives hope that it marks the start of a recovery process that will value and support social workers and provide the high-quality service that we all expect.
The report may be the first review of social work, but it is certainly not the first inquiry or investigation into social work services in recent years. We can go as far back as the lengthy 1992 Orkney inquiry and on to more recent ones, such as those into the Caleb Ness and the Miss X cases. I ask positively and constructively whether the problems that were highlighted in those cases have led to any lessons being learned. I like to think that they have. In the short time that I have had in which to read through the report, I have noticed that many of the problems that were highlighted previously have been raised again. That may not be a bad thing, but it would be nice to know that they were being addressed positively. I am committed to that.
- Peter Peacock:
The member has made a good point. The outcomes of the individual inquiries led to practice changes; we constantly learn from every tragic incident and I have no doubt that we will learn more in the future. One of the problems—and one of the reasons why we commissioned the review—was that we reported on each incident in each report on an ad hoc basis. The review allows us to take an overview of the whole system and to improve practice. It is to be hoped that that will reduce the number of tragic cases in the future.
- Mary Scanlon:
There certainly seemed to be a pattern of problems, which I note has been highlighted. I welcome the co-ordination of approaches.
I would like to know who is responsible for our council-run social work departments. It has been stated for years in parliamentary debates and in written and oral answers that many matters are for councils to decide and that ministers have the ultimate overview and responsibility for allocating resources. I agree with much of what is in the review, but it is a handbook on how to manage social work departments that have significant staffing and human resource issues.
I welcome the review, even though it is full of managementspeak and jargon, and I hope that it will achieve the outcome that we all want. However, that leads me to ask whether Parliament will now tell the council departments that are responsible for roads, education, planning, police, fire and housing how they should be managed. Will they make use of job descriptions? Where the do the lines of authority, autonomy, delegation and power lie in local government?
The review's first recommendation states:
"Social work services must be designed and delivered around the needs of people who use services, their carers and communities."
With respect, I ask whether that really has to be stated.
The minister gave me an assurance about the fourth recommendation, which mentions the "whole public sector approach". That should have been corrected because it does not reflect the spirit of the minister's or my understanding. I am pleased to have received the minister's commitment that not just the public sector but the private, voluntary and independent sectors will be covered.
The report later mentions a "mixed economy of care". I was a lecturer in economics for 20 years before I came to Parliament, so I know that "mixed economy of care" means using the voluntary sector. Why does the document not just say so?
I looked at the Association of Directors of Social Work's response to the initiative. A key issue for it is the need for a national research strategy that will be informed and shaped by the work of academics, practitioners and managers. Such a strategy should commission, validate and disseminate information to enhance professional practice and improve outcomes. That is what it is looking for—it is its number 1 priority. It wants to use the research to gauge best practice and to learn from it. However, in his foreword, Willie Roe says:
"We've considered research, evidence of best practice and views from leading opinion makers, people who use services and their carers".
Who is right? Is it Willie Roe, the author of the report, or is it the Association of Directors of Social Work? Others have mentioned the 498 vacant posts in social work. That must not only put huge pressure on the people who have to carry out additional work; it also means that many vulnerable people miss out entirely on social work support. At New Craigs psychiatric hospital in Inverness, in the constituency that the minister and I serve, the recommended complement is four full-time social workers: there is currently one.
- Fiona Hyslop:
Will the member acknowledge that although recruitment has increased, the real problem now is retention? The relationship between the statutory sector and the voluntary sector is the key. As a result of all the pressures that we have talked about, we frequently see social workers leaving the statutory sector and moving into the voluntary sector. That is one of the issues that the review should address.
- Mary Scanlon:
Both sectors have something to contribute, but that is a valid point and I thank the member for making it.
With nearly half of all senior social work vacancies and 35 per cent of all vacant social work posts unfilled for more than six months, there are huge problems and pressures within the system. To go back to psychiatry, how can we expect the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003, which was passed in good faith by Parliament, to be implemented fully, and mental health patients to receive the benefits that we hoped for and for which we legislated, with 25 per cent of the social work workforce?
It is still not clear what the role of paraprofessionals will be, although I listened carefully to the minister and understood that they will be under the direction of social workers. However, I hope that it will not be a case of less-qualified people being given tasks and responsibilities for which they have inadequate training.
I have been looking for a focus on prioritising interagency working, which Adam Ingram mentioned, and an emphasis on better communication and partnership working between all organisations that are involved in a person's care. Although there is some mention of that, it has not been given the focus that is required, as has been highlighted by the many tragic cases in recent years. Even as far back as the Community Care and Health (Scotland) Act 2002, one of the main issues that we heard from many people was that the national health service and social work services simply did not work as a team. It is sad that, four years later, Parliament is still having to recommend that they talk to each other and that they put the person first.
The Scottish Conservatives hope that the report of the 21st century social work review group will make a difference. The acid test will be the safety and well-being of children and adults that should result from social work intervention in future. The day that councillors and conveners of social work accept responsibility for bedblocking and delayed discharge will be the day that we achieve some success.
- Euan Robson (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (LD):
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this afternoon's debate on "Changing Lives: Report of the 21st Century Social Work Review". I welcome the minister's announcements today and earlier this week. Liberal Democrats recognise the importance of the social work profession in modern society. We see that it faces many challenges but we are clear that meeting those challenges is possible and indeed essential.
When Peter Peacock and I took over as education ministers in May 2003, it is fair to say that social work had been in a siding for 20 or more years. It was essential that it should return to the main line and its rightful place high in public regard—indeed among the most respected professions in our country. That has to be the objective for the profession.
The Scottish Executive has built on the initial steps that were taken before 2003. Recruitment has been stepped up so that we now have more social workers than ever. The number of vacancies is down and falling.
- Mary Scanlon:
Will the member give way?
- Euan Robson:
Not at the moment.
Investment in a fast-track scheme has enabled many more social workers to be recruited in recent months. A huge emphasis has been, and continues to be, placed on training, with major investment committed to the development of leadership capacity in the profession. The leading to deliver programme remains a particularly important aspect of the overall training programme and will ensure that the next generation of directors and managers of social work is a fundamental ingredient in the profession's future success.
The establishment of the Scottish institute for excellence in social work education was important to the profession. Mary Scanlon may have missed that, because it is precisely what she asked for in her speech. It gave a welcome focus to the education provision for social work and continues to ensure that innovation and best practice are distributed widely among social workers. For years, social work saw little investment in education and improvement in practice. I was privileged to chair the national workforce group for a time, during which that lack of investment was a recurring theme. However, the institute is helping to deliver in that regard.
- Mary Scanlon:
The resources that are being put into social work and the number of social workers have increased, but has the increase been pro rata and taken into account the enormous increase in work that has arisen from legislation that the Parliament has passed, which requires huge increases in the number of social workers?
- Euan Robson:
The increase in the number of social workers has been dramatic and marked—it has been about 44 per cent—and it is continuing. The plan is to ensure that social work becomes an attractive profession so that we attract more people to meet the challenges that are ahead.
Last November, the Scottish Executive published the important "National Strategy for the Development of the Social Service Workforce in Scotland: A Plan for Action 2005-2010", which set out a clear need to develop the whole social service workforce. Last autumn, the protection of the title "social worker" was introduced, which met an important aspiration after many long years. We also have the on-going registration of social workers—about 9,000 are now registered by the Scottish Social Services Council. An important ingredient that was recently added and which we discussed in a recent debate is the Social Work Inspection Agency. The previous organisation was underdeveloped, but the inspection process is particularly important in ensuring high standards.
- Fiona Hyslop:
Will the member give way on that point?
- Euan Robson:
No, not at the moment.
All those measures have an important additional point, which is to build confidence in the profession. A self-confident profession ensures a greater degree of confidence in the community at large, particularly among those who use its services.
The review was complementary to all the activities that I have mentioned. The publication of the report and the Executive's response are immensely timely. The 13 key findings of the review are set out in the "Changing Lives" publication. I will comment on the three groups into which the 13 recommendations fall. I agree that services should be designed and delivered around the needs of people and their carers and communities and that services must build on individual family and community capacity. However, the important findings or recommendations are those which emphasise the fundamental importance of integrating social work with other public services, because prevention and early intervention will be achieved by integrated working. The concept of letters of assurance in child protection, which are obtained from the heads of public service agencies such as chief executives of health boards or local authorities, chief constables, education directors and others, could and should be embedded through management and supervision at supervisory levels throughout organisations. As Peter Peacock said, social workers can make a huge contribution in that respect.
We also need to develop career progression that allows those who are interested in social work to progress through a varied career—perhaps in social care, voluntary organisations or health services—that provides a broader and deeper experience. That will ensure greater readiness for and acceptance of integrated working.
Training for social workers should include a broad understanding of the work of those with whom they will engage in the health, education, social care and police services. In the long run, I see great benefit in some form of common training so that each profession has a clear understanding of the work and roles of the other professions. Training is obviously best undertaken at the outset of a career, but the review's recommendation 8 places a strong emphasis on the commitment of individuals and organisations to lifelong learning and continuing professional development and there is no reason why that type of training might not also take place for those who are well advanced in their career.
Recommendation 6 talks about services developing
"a new organisational approach to managing risk, which ensures … safe, effective and innovative practice."
In managing risk, there must be clear accountability frameworks, but social workers must also be allowed to exercise professional autonomy. There ought to be a climate of continuous improvement in social work services and an ethos of learning, with strategies that are effective and that underpin best practice, which ought to be shared. I also agree that social work services should learn from difficult cases or instances of mistakes.
On behalf of the Liberal Democrats, I emphasise that we recognise that for every instance of something going wrong, there are dozens of interventions by social workers that change people's lives for the better. That should be recognised by all of us, but particularly by the media, which ought to set problems or difficulties in an appropriate context.
The review is an important step in moving social work forward. I believe that it is inevitable that the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 will need to be reviewed in the next parliamentary session in the light of all the work that has been done in this one. I welcome the minister's remarks in that regard.
My final point is one for social workers themselves and it is that they should value their profession. I have had the privilege of talking to many social workers in recent months and I appreciate the importance of their work, the challenges that they face and the unfairness of the criticism that is heaped on them from time to time. Nevertheless, I repeat that they should value their profession. If they do not, no one else will. Government is helping to modernise their profession and is recognising their achievement and contribution, so they themselves must promote what they do and celebrate it.
- Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green):
Like others, I welcome the review and commend the review group for the great deal of work that has clearly been put into it.
We should all recognise why the review was needed and why it was right to commission it. That the review was overdue is demonstrated by the loss of skills in the field; the culture of blame, which I think is a theme that will come out of many speeches in the debate; the steadily increasing pressures on what is a vital and essential service for many people; and the fact that for many years organisations such as the Association of Directors of Social Work have called for precisely some of the changes that are included in the review's recommendations. It is welcome that the review is now before us, not least because it calls for changes in the career structure that will help to make the job more attractive and to retain people's skills.
I also commend the minister for agreeing with the review group on what I think is the central point, which is that more of the same will not work. The minister used that phrase in his speech. I think that I have never seen Euan Robson so animated as he was during his speech, although I am not sure that I agree with everything in it. Certainly, the thrust of it was passionate. The emphasis on prevention, which he mentioned, must be valued.
In The Herald the other day, Bob Holman wrote:
"I'm a prevention person, but I think that if prevention is to take off, it's got to be in co-operation with local community groups, not just big voluntary groups. They know their community and they know what's needed."
We should all acknowledge that there is something in that on which we should reflect.
I will come on to the legislative context and the resources, but I would also like to speak about the design of services. I have spoken to a number of people in the field recently who tell me that they are impressed with the model that operates in Sweden, where social workers are integrated into community resources. They are not in boring bureaucratic offices but are attached to gyms, playgrounds, cafes and so on. They are sited in communities in multipurpose facilities in a way that reduces or removes any stigma that is attached to accessing those services.
- Fiona Hyslop:
I appreciate what the member says. Does he share my concern that, this week, the Executive abandoned its target of having every school become an integrated community school, bearing in mind that community schools were meant to provide a single point of access for social work and health services?
- Patrick Harvie:
That is something for the minister rather than me to respond to.
- Peter Peacock:
Will the member give way?
- Patrick Harvie:
Perhaps the minister will intervene in the SNP's closing speech and allow me to make a little progress now. How much time do I have for my speech, Presiding Officer?
- The Deputy Presiding Officer:
I will compensate for the intervention that was just made. The opening speakers took eight minutes so I will give you eight minutes as well.
- Patrick Harvie:
I am grateful.
The model that the social workers have been talking about—the one in Sweden—is a positive one and it enables people to access services in a way that is relevant to them and does not challenge or stigmatise them. Further, it enables them to access those services early, which helps with regard to the preventive approach, which means that people can avoid reaching a crisis point in their lives rather than having to access a service later on.
With regard to the status of the service and the status that the people who work in it feel that they have, there is a question mark against the role of paraprofessionals. I am not instinctively against their having a role, but I think that many people want that question mark addressed sooner rather than later, so that they know what to expect. Again, I have heard about models in existence in Sweden, as well as in Denmark and Germany, which many people think work well and with which many people would be comfortable. When he winds up, perhaps the minister can say whether the Executive has looked at other European models and whether any direct comparisons can be made between what operates in Europe and what the Executive's plans are.
- Peter Peacock:
I like Swedish models.
- Patrick Harvie:
I am glad that the minister's microphone was not switched on at that moment. However, I will check the Official Report anyway. The minister's joke has taken all the attention away from what I was saying.
There are some other question marks. The minister has indicated that some legislation might be expected. However, there seems little indication of what that will mean. Is there an intention or merely a possibility that there will be legislation? If no major structural change is anticipated, what can we expect from the legislation?
On the question of resources, Euan Robson made a passionate defence of the level of resources that have been put in and the amount of recruitment and so on that there has been. However, none of us would argue that the service is not facing challenges in its ability to meet the level of demand.
- Robert Brown:
Does Patrick Harvie accept that we need to define the need for the resources first, so that we might determine their best use, and then decide whether we have got the right level of resources?
- Patrick Harvie:
I agree with that. That is why I had concerns when I heard the First Minister's recent remarks about the children of drug-using parents. To decide that we will start removing more of those children from their parents and putting them into other forms of care before we consider what we can do about the low numbers of places compared with the high numbers of children we think are in such a home environment is to put the cart before the horse, even in relation to what Robert Brown has just said.
On the issue of the culture of blame, all members would recognise that when high-profile cases, such as the recent one concerning the 11-year-old in Glasgow, are reported, particularly in the less reputable newspapers, we often hear cries of, "Where were the social workers? What were the social workers doing?" Often, and for the most part, the social workers were doing their jobs with great professionalism and dedication within serious constraints on resources. If we in the chamber can speak with a united voice about our respect and regard for the dedication and professionalism of the social workers who are doing this demanding job, we will have done something right. That can be expressed in an afternoon's debate, but it must not end there.
- Susan Deacon (Edinburgh East and Musselburgh) (Lab):
I welcome the debate, as I welcome the report and the minister's response. The report has been criticised in many places as yet another glossy that is full of managementspeak. It is another glossy, and it has quite a bit of managementspeak in it, but that does not mean that it is a bad thing. It is important to highlight some of the key themes that sit within the document and consider how we can all play a part in taking them forward in the future.
I join other members in congratulating the review group that has done this work. If members have not already done so, it is worth turning to the back of the main report to see the number, range and breadth of the people who have contributed, on a cross-disciplinary and cross-sectoral basis, to the review group and the many sub-groups that have been involved in the review. That involvement has been good, and if it can be continued through the implementation process, enabling those people to get on with the task of taking forward the changes, that could deliver results.
I will highlight a few threads that have been thrown up in the report and look not so much to the detail of the recommendations as to some of the changes in culture that have been analysed and identified explicitly in the report. Risk has been mentioned, but what has been said bears repetition. We, as politicians, need to make a significant contribution to changing attitudes towards risk. I welcome the tone and tenor of the minister's response to the report earlier this week, in which he spoke explicitly about the fact that although we can and must work hard to minimise risk, we cannot eliminate it. We have to say that a lot more loudly and more frequently.
How often do we stand up in this place, when sad and tragic things happen in society, and say, "This must never be allowed to happen again"? Of course, we must try to ensure that such things never happen again, but we know that we cannot say definitively that they will not, no matter how hard we try or how hard professionals, individuals, families and communities try. That is an important message to take from today's debate.
That applies equally to what has been said about blame in general and the blaming of social workers in particular. I have concerns when we hear of situations—they are often reported in the press—in which, on the discovery of an elderly person who has lain dead for a number of weeks, neighbours and even close relatives decry the social services and their failings. We must look a lot closer to home, in our families and communities, to see what more we can do to look out for one another and to protect one another, although I do not for one moment suggest that we should abrogate the responsibility of professionals who have a specific role to carry out.
Also, in this and in many other areas, there is a need for us not to focus simply on failure. The fact is that we focus disproportionately on times when things go wrong in our public services rather than on the daily experiences and practices of professionals that go right and have a transformational impact on people's lives for the better. I echo strongly something that Euan Robson said. People in public services have to tell that story a lot more loudly and more clearly. I do not know how often I have heard professionals in various public services—social work, in particular, but many others besides—say, "Why don't we hear more about the good things that we do?" I often say that if politicians—especially of the Executive parties—stand up and say that social work services are going well, people will say, "They would say that, wouldn't they? They want to get that message across." People in those public services need to say what they really do day in and day out. Building confidence by telling that story is a vital part of what must flow from the report.
I will highlight a couple of other things. I am struck but pleased by the fact that the report highlights the need to improve and better co-ordinate regulation and inspection. Again, we in the Parliament should hold up a mirror and acknowledge that we were a wee bit too trigger-happy in the early years of devolution by putting in place more and more layers of legislation, regulation and inspection. There was very good intent on each occasion, but many people are now reflecting on the practical implications of some of the arrangements that have been put in place. There is an urgent need to consider how those arrangements can be made to knit together more effectively, to work more efficiently and, critically, to add value to the work of social work and other key public services, rather than getting in the way of what those services are trying to do.
I must also mention joint working. To be fair, Mary Scanlon had a point when she highlighted that and said that even more could be said than has been said in the report. However, it is important to acknowledge how far things have come, particularly since devolution and particularly in the key areas of health and social work. It is important to maintain that momentum.
That takes me to my final point. In joint working, but also in many other areas that are highlighted in the report, there is a critical need for strong leadership. The minister also highlighted that point.
I note that the conclusion of the summary report says that we will require
"transformational change across the whole of Scottish society and public services."
That is a big statement. We need to ensure that we are developing the leaders of the future, not just in individual professional groups and sectors but throughout the Scottish public sector. If the minister has not already done so, will he examine the recent report produced by the Auditor General for Scotland on this point as well as the Official Report of this week's meeting of the Audit Committee, which involved an hour of discussion with the permanent secretary, Mr John Elvidge, on the very same subject? At that meeting, we considered the particular importance of developing leadership skills so that public sector leaders can collaborate and not just work in single sectors. Progress in that area has been quite lamentable so far, but there is an appetite to make progress. That is an absolute prerequisite to taking forward the work that is needed in the social work sector.
Today is an important watershed, so it is important to treat it as the beginning and not the end of a process. I hope that action and implementation are not held up by unnecessary delay in the design of the implementation structure, or choked by too much central guidance and the like. I do not think that that is what anyone wants but, all too often, that is what happens. If we can keep up the momentum and make this report into a living, breathing piece of work by involving the people who have taken it this far and letting them get on with the next critical stage of the job, we can deliver results and improvements for the social work profession and, crucially, for the people whom it serves.
- Christine Grahame (South of Scotland) (SNP):
Along with others, I recognise and want to address the complexity of the issues that face our social workers in an increasingly fragmented and tense society. Who could have known 20 years ago what social workers would have to deal with today?
Although I agree with much of what Susan Deacon said about moving away from the difficult cases, we must realise that they are why we are here. It would not have been difficult to prevent some of those bad and tragic cases. I was closely involved in scrutinising the case of Miss X, a vulnerable adult in the Borders, and I had access to some of the files. The errors that occurred over a period of 20 to 30 years were heartbreaking. The background reasons were the social workers' very heavy case loads. Organisation of the material was difficult and the social workers were unable to prioritise. There were also interagency failures. Two or three people were involved in what happened to that woman and they all had separate files, but no one shared the information in them. There were failures in other agencies and the case reviews also failed because they did not happen. As the minister will know, all the warning signs were there all along and were obvious even to someone completely unskilled, such as me. There was a failure even to speak to the vulnerable woman herself. Most of all, there was a failure of senior management. Through that case, I now have a particular interest in the security of vulnerable adults, and vulnerable children become vulnerable adults very quickly, at 17 or 18.
My party and I are pleased that we are coming to grips with an issue that is not easy, and we hope that "Changing Lives" will help us to provide a social work service that is fit for this century. However, there are problems that are terribly difficult to solve, including boundary disputes, the silo mentality and cross-cutting issues. I hear what Susan Deacon says, but I am afraid that my experience is that the national health service protects its budget, social work departments protect their budgets and the criminal justice system protects its budgets.
Let us consider the simple example of secure accommodation. Secure accommodation for children at risk would be funded by the social work department. Secure accommodation for children who are subject to a criminal investigation would be funded by the criminal justice system. I remember cases that we examined when I was a member of the Justice 1 Committee in which the social work department was having children moved over to the criminal justice system simply to get them a place. At that stage, members—to a man and woman—wanted single funding for secure accommodation.
There are some simple tweaks along the way that could deliver for children, because the child who is at risk today may be the child who offends tomorrow while absconding from an unhappy home. I remember a case in Dalkeith in which the police had no option but to send a child back to the mother from whom he was running because there was nowhere to put him. For three days, he was at large in Edinburgh. Nobody knows what he was doing during that time, but he managed to eat, so he must have been stealing. There are clearly problems to resolve.
Early intervention is commendable, but I listened carefully to the words of an experienced retired social worker who said on the radio that many social workers find that they are firefighting. Notwithstanding the good intentions of the minister and many members of the Parliament, I think that they will continue to firefight because of the shortage of social workers. I heard what Euan Robson had to say about increasing numbers, but the reality is that there is a 40 per cent shortage in greater Glasgow for a start. There are increasing demands on social work services that we cannot keep up with. The Executive's own "Changing Lives" document states:
"Social workers are a relatively scarce specialist resource, making up only around 5% of the total social service workforce."
I pick up on what Patrick Harvie and other members have said about paraprofessionals. We need to get to the meat of the argument. We need to know exactly what a paraprofessional can and cannot do. It is my understanding that the social work service already employs people to do paraprofessional work—they are called social work assistants or resource workers. We need clear defining lines between what social workers do and what paraprofessionals do, and I welcome references to protection of title. I have had the opportunity to examine the information that makes clear the issues that front-line social workers must deal with. I suggest to the minister that that should act as the foundation for regulations, as recommended by the ADSW. We may even need guidance for social workers on exactly where they can go with work that could be done further down the line, because there seems to be a conflict between their involvement in early intervention and perhaps having paraprofessionals working at that level. We need answers to the questions that arise in that area.
My colleague Adam Ingram raised another issue that I would like the minister to address: continuing professional development. In my former profession, law, one was not allowed to practise unless one got 18 of what I called brownie points each year. We had to upgrade our skills continually, and the same happens in many professions. The world changes fast under our feet and lawyers and other professionals cannot practise unless they upgrade their skills. What Euan Robson said about social workers valuing themselves was worthy, but they should also be appraised, they should upgrade their skills and they should be remunerated for that and be given status accordingly.
I welcome structural change but, as Susan Deacon said, the huge issue for the minister is to achieve cultural change among the various agencies, which often protect one other and, to an extent, themselves. They must be prepared to share information, because what matters is not professional reputations or taking risks: it is the vulnerable adult or the vulnerable child, who is at the centre of everything. The agencies had best err on their side.
- Lord James Douglas-Hamilton (Lothians) (Con):
I express admiration for social workers. They have a challenging but admirable profession. For many of them, it is more than a profession: it is a vocation.
We give a cautious welcome to the report of the 21st century social work review group and to the Executive's response, especially with regard to the move away from a blame culture. Many colleagues have taken up that theme this afternoon: a blame culture is inappropriate, counterproductive and unfair.
As Christine Grahame suggested, we want high standards and we want to prevent harm from being done to those who are at risk, whatever their age. We must support those who are vulnerable and cannot care for themselves. It is not enough to intervene only at the late stages of a problem, for example by removing a child from drug-addicted parents; there must be early intervention.
A MORI survey found that some respondents felt that the onus for tackling social problems should not lie solely on a new and improved social work service; the Government needs to make greater efforts to tackle the causes of problems by, for example, encouraging individuals to take more responsibility for themselves and their families. As Willie Roe, the chairman of the 21st century social work review group, said at the launch of the report on Tuesday, there needs to be a shift in approach in social services from welfare to well-being.
We have long argued that the culture in social work departments that says that it is best to keep children with their families at all times should be challenged in certain cases. The protection of the child must remain the paramount concern, but as it is not always possible to anticipate child protection problems, legislation cannot necessarily safeguard us against every eventuality. We support the minister's conclusion on the matter.
Most of the failures that have occurred in the system, such as the cases of Michael McGarrity and Caleb Ness, have involved ineffective interagency working and poor communication. Even a recent report on the assessment of children in need in West Lothian and Ayrshire, "Ayrshire and West Lothian Pilot Projects Assessing Children in Need", found that concerns remain about standards of recording and assessment in general; about depth, detail and analysis of evidence; and about how agencies act together to complete assessments. On the other hand, it appears that the 21st century social work review identified too much bureaucracy and information gathering as a weakness in existing practice. That finding is not wholly consistent with the findings of the other research. Therefore, I recommend that strong leadership and common sense be applied to create a balance between flexibility and accountability in care services. The Joint Inspection of Children's Services and Inspection of Social Work Services (Scotland) Bill may go some way towards remedying the problem. The minister has undertaken to review the impact of the legislation before 2007. All 32 local authorities should receive joint inspections of children's services by the 2008 deadline that is pledged in the legislative programme.
The ministerial statement on the action that the Executive proposes in response to the recommendations made in the Bichard report is to be welcomed. The proposed action was discussed at length yesterday. No system provides an absolute guarantee, but we have a moral obligation and duty to develop the best system that we can. I echo once more the words of Willie Roe: the real changes within the social care system must be implemented by practitioners who work at the chalk face.
Social workers need not wait for the magic day of legislation or for ministerial pronouncements to take action; they can start to make changes for the better from today. We should be grateful to them for their tireless efforts in what can be the most difficult of circumstances. There is so much that they can and will do for the safety and well-being of Scotland's children and adults. Therefore, coupled with our gratitude to those practitioners is the will that they should receive the necessary resources to bring their numbers up to strength. We wish them every possible success in their many tasks in the public interest.
- Carolyn Leckie (Central Scotland) (SSP):
I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate, which is highly political in nature. We are debating changing lives and our very different political philosophies go right to the heart of the debate. Any debate on social work in the 21st century must be placed in that context.
There are 10,000 workers in social work today, not all of whom are registered social workers. The majority are home helps, carers, social care workers, community service officers, community care assistants, social work assistants, residential care officers, nursery nurses or members of the many other groups involved in the delivery of front-line services. The majority are low-paid women workers, many of whom are employed in services that are under direct threat, particularly in Glasgow. Any debate on the subject must be placed in the context of that reality.
Many of my friends work in the social work field. They welcome the review and welcome and embrace the changes that will be made to social work organisation in Scotland. They tell me that they recognise that things cannot continue as they are, but say that the measure of success will be whether change affects the situations that one exhausted social worker friend asked me to highlight in my speech.
She asked me to say that we cannot continue to keep elderly people in hospital because no home help is available to support them in their home; to ask the workers on the minimum wage who staff our nursing and care homes to work without support supervision or qualifications; to place children on the child protection register or supervision orders without allocating them a social worker; to ask children on place-of-safety or secure orders to continue to live at home because there are no resources for alternatives; or to separate looked-after siblings because there are no appropriate carers. We cannot ask community care social workers to make needs assessments for disabled and elderly people only to be told that their assessments are not realistic and that there is no budget to meet the needs that they have identified.
It is not acceptable for criminal justice social workers to be told to supervise newly released offenders for whom the Scottish Executive has provided no funding; neither is it acceptable to ask social workers to be responsible for supporting drug and alcohol addicts when no access can be provided to rehabilitation services, again because of a lack of resources.
All those situations put untenable pressure on social workers, who have all the responsibility but none of the means to deliver the quality of service that they want to deliver. Social workers want to deliver a service that is fit for the 21st century, but the reality is that their case loads are too big and they have to attend more and more meetings and produce an increasing number of reports, all of which gives them less time to spend with service users. We will know that things are improving when social workers have stopped chasing their tails.
It is unacceptable that councils throughout Scotland have entered into Dutch auctions that have resulted in social workers being valued more in one region than in another—even between authorities that are next door to each other. Social work staff want to do a better job, but they need the support to do so. They want the public and politicians to understand their roles and responsibilities. They are also begging for more resources—financial and physical.
All the inquiries into the terrible situations that members have mentioned have focused on the lack of communication by and involvement of social work services. They have also highlighted the role of other agencies and their lack of communication and commitment to the development of common understanding. However, in the media, social workers alone have taken the brunt of the blame. There needs to be a shift in attitude. Social workers cannot go on like that; it does no good for their morale and it does not give them the basis for embracing change and moving on.
Although I agree with Susan Deacon that we need to focus on the positive, the worst cases can expose systemic problems that could have resulted in other tragedies but, thankfully, did not. A great deal can be learned from such cases, although we will never be able to say that they can always be avoided. Incompetence is one thing, but overwork, stress and a complete lack of resources are another. We have spoken about the blame culture, which disables staff by forcing them to dot i's and cross t's and by discouraging innovation and problem solving. Although local authorities have statutory responsibilities, social workers are left to take responsibility for events over which they have no control. The fact that there is no appropriate housing for a sex offender must be the responsibility of the local authority rather than of a particular social worker.
It is easy to pursue a populist law and order agenda and to make pronouncements about antisocial behaviour orders in Parliament, but no resources have been provided for looking after and caring for children who may be struggling at home, at school or in the community. The provision of such resources is the hard part. The parents with mental health, alcohol or drugs problems who struggle with their children are blamed rather than helped and offered appropriate resources. The hands of the children's panels are tied and their decisions are not followed through because of a lack of staff resources. They cannot implement measures that would benefit families, such as respite or the provision of better housing.
Social workers try to uphold society's values—it is society that does not want children or vulnerable people to be hurt, abused or exploited. We ask social workers to help to protect those people, but we give them crumbs off the table and blame them when things go wrong, even though the responsibility lies with society as a whole. Social work and even local authorities cannot be held responsible for a human being's actions, but we in the Parliament can be held responsible for how we respond to those actions. We need to respond well, by providing resources and being accountable for the deployment—or otherwise—of those resources.
The world once envied our Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 and the children's panels. Let us return to that state of affairs. I offer a plea on behalf of social workers: we need the money and the commitment from politicians. Once that has been provided, we might be able to win the hearts, minds and good will of social work staff and management, who already work extraordinarily hard.
- Trish Godman (West Renfrewshire) (Lab):
I welcome the review, even though it has been a long time in coming.
Since 1999, I have pursued three goals in particular: the de-tolling of the Erskine bridge; the establishment of an independent review of local government finance; and the creation of a minister for social work. I have got my eyes, fingers and toes crossed on the de-tolling of the Erskine bridge and the Executive is having an independent review of local government finance but, unfortunately, there is no minister for social work.
I want to examine that issue. A group chaired by the Minister for Education and Young People will overview the social work service, but it is not clear to me how that group will bring together all the relevant departments to fund and direct social work services. I have always been interested in the fact that three ministers sit round the Cabinet table to argue for funding for what is basically the same service. Christine Grahame gave a good example of that. I am disappointed that the review contains no reference to creating a minister for social work or holding an independent review of social work finance.
I have some general comments and criticisms to make, which I hope will be constructive. The potential of the paraprofessional needs to be explored more fully, as I will explain later. We must also explore the contribution that social work makes to integrated services and say more about multi-agency teams and how that integration is managed.
We all agree that it is right that we manage risk. The report of the review group suggests that it is the role of the social worker to help others to understand risk, but I do not believe that that is the case. A political lead is needed if risk is to be understood. That does not square with recent reports in the papers and the solutions that have been proposed for children who live with parents who have addictions.
The report recommends that social work should work alongside individual families and communities, but we must recognise that, in some cases, the nature of the responsibilities of social work brings social workers into legitimate conflict with the people whom they are tasked with helping. Recommendation 7 in the report states that it is not only social workers, but members of the social care workforce such as residential workers, who are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, who need to be
"enabled and supported to practise accountably and exercise their professional autonomy."
It is imperative that social work core activities remain and that they develop around personalised social work services. Along with other agencies, social work needs to develop early-intervention strategies. However, we must not use that term too loosely. By its very nature, social work deals with sections of the population who are socially excluded. In some cases, a prevention strategy would mean socioeconomic change. That would require a much broader and more political approach, which I do not believe is for a social worker.
If the social worker is to be central to the delivery of quality services, it goes without saying that we need the best person in post. As I have said before, there is a wealth of talent out there—mature people with life and work experience who would be willing to undertake a formal education that might not have been available in their youth.
- John Swinburne (Central Scotland) (SSCUP):
I want to emphasise the point that Trish Godman just made. Forty per cent of people who are five years away from retiring age are unemployed. We could tap into a vast pool of great experience.
- Trish Godman:
I could not agree more and, as I say, I have made the point before. We should also encourage colleges and universities to introduce social work courses for people who have chosen to retire early or have retired earlier than they had hoped to retire.
When I was a social worker, part of my job was to supervise students. What is social work? It is not about working out systems, writing court reports, standing up in court or going to a children's panel to present a case; it is about planning the best way to support the client. That client might have been abused or might be addicted, disabled, ill or old—there is a whole range of clients. Can members imagine what it would be like to go into work on a Monday morning, be given a first referral that contains a name, and be told that it is a family where there might be drug abuse and there is certainly alcohol abuse, because the father has been in the clink over the weekend, that the mother is in hospital because she has been battered and that the kids are not turning up to school? A case like that is not unusual. The social worker does not know the family, has never heard of them and may never have been to the area where the family lives.
What do they have to do? They have to knock on the door when they do not know what is behind it. I have been verbally abused; I have been threatened; I have been locked up in a room for three hours by a woman who was mentally ill. Obviously, those were not pleasant experiences. Social workers have no idea what they will face.
Very early in my dealings with students, it became clear to me that some people do not have the skill to make cold calls. They may be good academically, and people came to me with great recommendations that said that they wrote very good reports. However, they could not talk to the punters, and if people cannot talk to the punters, they cannot do the job. I agree fully with the review's recommendation that social workers with skills on the front line—the ones who can make that first call—should have career opportunities that allow them to stay on the front line.
I said earlier that we need clarification on paraprofessionals. I am not sure where we will find them. As Christine Grahame asked, will they be social work assistants, will they carry out the same job as a social worker, and will they be trained? Perhaps we will hear some answers.
The review is not meaty enough about how social work will link with other agencies. By "link", I mean how all the agencies will talk to one another, listen to one another and learn from best practice. I know that we have come a long way in multi-agency provision, but I still get the impression that it is patchy in some areas. The advent of bed blocking makes me feel that.
As the minister said, doing more of the same is not an option. There are increasing demands on social workers: the massive use of illegal drugs changes their case load completely. I can remember going to social work teams in the east end of Glasgow and saying to them, "No. A drug addict doesn't have three ears, a bashed nose and one eye in the middle of their forehead." Those teams had never seen drug addicts, did not know what to expect and thought that drug addicts would look different from everybody else. How that has changed.
The massive use of illegal drugs and the rising expectations of the public mean that we need to respond. Effective political leadership is needed both in this chamber and in local government. The strategy for social work needs to be Scotland-wide; good leadership, good practice and good, sensible multi-agency working need to be encouraged.
Social work is not an easy job—most of us in this chamber would shy away from it. We need a framework that values, nurtures and develops social workers and the whole workforce. The review goes some way towards that. It is not great, it does not have great punch, but we have started.
- Ms Sandra White (Glasgow) (SNP):
I thank Trish Godman for her honest, straightforward and informative speech. Having spoken to social workers, I am afraid that things do not change very quickly. They are still experiencing some of the unpleasant aspects of social work that Trish Godman experienced. However, I am sure that she also had some uplifting moments.
Although a review of social services was long overdue, I welcome the group's report. Social workers have a demanding job. The focus is always on the failures of the system, which have been highlighted, and the tragic consequences that those have. Often the invaluable work that social workers do goes unnoticed. Social work is a difficult job. Unfortunately, the press tends to concentrate only on the failures and never on the successes of social services. People should have more confidence in social workers and should recognise that they do a very good job.
Social workers are not the only people who work in social services. As Carolyn Leckie pointed out, there are also carers, home helps, domestics and other workers. Social workers are on the front line. Theirs can be a hard and lonely career path to travel. The many strengths of the present system are recognised in the review group's excellent report. It is also up front in mentioning the challenges that social workers and the service face. I am usually the first to comment on glossy reports that are not written in plain English, but Susan Deacon has already made that point. This report is concise. It identifies both the strengths and the weaknesses of social services.
If we want a modern social services system, we must take on the report's recommendations and the independent advice from social workers and users of social services. The minister recognises the challenges ahead and that it will take a long time to meet them. That is an honest answer. We cannot simply believe that three months down the line all the changes that the report recommends will have been implemented. Although joined-up thinking between the various agencies is needed, not just social work but society as a whole must be involved in making those changes. After all, we are products of the society in which we live.
It is important that social workers should be allowed to use their experience and initiative, without being tied down by red tape. They should not have to spend all their time writing reports and must be given the flexibility to be involved in initiatives to deliver services locally, without having to seek a decision from the paraphernalia and bureaucracy at head office. That is one of the review group's most important recommendations. I have been talking about social workers, but such an approach would also give people who use the services of social workers and others confidence and pride in the services that they are receiving. I hope that the direct involvement of service users will give them the confidence to become responsible citizens and that the report's recommendations will bring about a shift from a dependency culture, in which services are simply received, to a system in which people can input into services and feel much better about themselves.
Other members referred to social workers' lack of confidence in their management teams. Some social services staff feel that they are not fully supported by their managers. The report states that
"employing organisations should resource employees to deliver first class services."
It also says that managers and line managers are bogged down by pressures of management and budget considerations, and suggests that those responsibilities be taken away from them, so that they can have a better understanding of the issues that affect front-line staff.
Trish Godman said that social workers might not understand the "punters", as we might call them. People who go straight into social work from university may not know about life, so perhaps they should not be put into a one-to-one situation. Glasgow City Council does not have a policy on lone working for social services, but I do not know whether that is the case in every sphere of social work in every local authority. The council does not prioritise resources for simple things such as mobile phones for its social work staff. Housing officers get mobile phones, but social workers, who are often in threatening situations, do not. I will not name names, as I do not want to go into individual cases. However, I find it worrying that social workers in Glasgow may find themselves in threatening situations but be unable to contact someone immediately. Social workers who have not been trained in lone working may find themselves in a close in a deprived area with only one light. I would like that point to be taken on board, perhaps not now but in the future. Mobile phones and training in lone working should be compulsory for all social workers.
Social workers should be furnished with other fundamental tools. Last night I attended a meeting in Glasgow about children's panels. People told me that there were still advertisements in social work departments advising them to attend a children's hearing if they want to find out what goes on there. Along with mobile phones and lone working policies, attendance at children's hearings should be a compulsory, fundamental tool for all social workers, to make life easier for them and to help them to serve their clients.
Euan Robson said that social workers should learn to value themselves. That is fine and dandy, but social workers often feel that they are not valued by their employers. It is difficult for people to value themselves if they feel that their employer does not value them. Susan Deacon made that point and said that social workers should sing their own praises. I agree, but without a culture change in society that call will fall on deaf ears, among the public and social workers alike. I hope that the report will change attitudes.
Adam Ingram, Carolyn Leckie and others mentioned the underfunding of social work services. Professor Midwinter arrived at the figure of £135 million, which is significant. The issue must be looked at, because there is a 40 per cent shortage in the recruitment of front-line social workers in the Glasgow area. The retention of social workers is equally important. That is a big problem: we may be able to recruit, but we cannot retain front-line social work staff because of the difficult situations in which they find themselves. I agree with Robert Brown's answer to Patrick Harvie's question about funding. We must examine the funding provision that we are making.
- Robert Brown:
Both Sandra White and Christine Grahame mentioned the situation in Glasgow. Currently, Glasgow City Council's vacancy rate for social workers is 5 per cent. That has come about as a result of the recruitment and retention practices that we have introduced over the past year or two.
- Ms White:
I thank the minister for that information, but the letters that I have received and from which I am quoting say that there is a 40 per cent shortfall in front-line social workers. Social work encompasses many issues; it is not just a question of front-line social workers. Perhaps we should concentrate on front-line social workers who are involved at the coalface.
We have to look at the money that we spend on social work. A shortfall of £135 million throughout social work is a serious matter. I welcome the report and am sure that the minister and others will take on board all the good points, as well as the criticisms that it makes. I hope that they will work towards giving us a 21st century social work service for a 21st century Scotland.
- Dr Elaine Murray (Dumfries) (Lab):
As members have said, for many years social workers have got the blame for society's failures. There have been a number of appalling cases, some of which have been mentioned, in which professionals such as social workers and social work departments have deservedly received a fair amount of criticism because they failed to act or to work together. Unfortunately, there has been a perception that social workers have a magic wand to sort out all the problems that everyone else is unable to sort out and that they are at fault when they fail to do so. That has been the case for a long time.
Adam Ingram and Christine Grahame came close to suggesting that there was a golden age of social work. My mother was a social worker, so I can assure members that the lot of a social worker has never been particularly happy—it has always been a stressful and difficult job. However, we must acknowledge that issues relating to alcohol, substance and drug abuse have made the profession even more difficult than it has always been.
I agree with Susan Deacon, Carolyn Leckie and others that social workers get the blame for what everyone else does. We are all reluctant to accept responsibility as individuals and as a society. There is too much of a culture of "someone should do something about it", rather than "we all ought to be doing something about it".
The review group was established two years ago against a background of problems in recruitment and retention. Councils were competing to attract social workers, and some were offering financial incentives to poach them from neighbouring authorities. There were also wide differences between authorities. Dumfries and Galloway Council is in a state of extreme flux at the moment. I apologise for the rather rude noise that my mobile phone made earlier; I was getting updated on the crises in the council. I discovered not only that the council had vacancies in social work but that it had a smaller number of posts per thousand of the population than other councils. I found that rather extraordinary, given that the area has a fairly elderly population that needs support. When I pointed that out to the director responsible, he seemed unaware of the fact that the council had a smaller number of posts than other authorities.
It is perhaps surprising that, despite all the problems in social work, there has been a high level of interest in the social work training that has been offered recently. We have heard about the fast-track training that the Executive has introduced. The University of Glasgow offers a master of arts honours degree in social work, which was introduced at the Crichton university campus in Dumfries in September last year, with support from Dumfries and Galloway Council to fund a lecturer. The course attracted a large number of applicants, including some who were not quite in the last five years of their working life but were more mature. The only slight disappointment was that the vast majority of applicants were women. Fewer men than we would like are demonstrating an interest in social work training.
If we are to keep new graduates in social work, the profession—and the public's perception of it—must change. People who take up careers in social work do so because they want to help and support people who are in need for a variety of reasons, just as people who take up teaching do so because they want to help children to learn and people who take up nursing do so because they want to care for people who are unwell and to help them to improve their health. Professionals in the public sector take up their jobs because they want to help other people in society. They do not do it for fame or recognition, but because they have a fundamental desire to help their fellow man and to contribute to society. That must be acknowledged, because we often hear the public sector condemned as a drain on the nation that does not contribute. Public sector professionals are extremely important people. It is incumbent on us to ensure that the structures that support them are modernised and that we support them in their aims.
If we consider the ways in which we are modernising the public sector—for example, through the Kerr report and the debates that have taken place on the national priorities and legislative change in education—we see that many similar things are happening in different parts of the public sector. The priorities are similar, but the methods of achieving things differ between disciplines. For example, we are developing national priorities and strong leadership. Individual social workers sometimes end up with problems because line managers have not taken responsibility. We need strong leadership and people who are able to take courageous decisions, but it is difficult for them to do that in a blame culture. We need to move away from a blame culture, so that people can make the decisions that need to be made.
We are developing personalised services that meet individual needs. In education, we need to respond to the needs of the child; in social services, we need to respond to the needs of the client. Despite the problems that Trish Godman mentioned, we need earlier intervention so that we can prevent crises. That is important in social work, just as it is in health and education.
We need to strengthen the profession through continuous professional development and to enable experienced social workers to progress in their careers while remaining in front-line services. We should not lose people who have the valuable hands-on experience that is so important in ensuring that the right decisions are made. We need to work in partnership with users and carers and to involve people in the decisions that are made about their futures. We need to foster joint working between sectors and to develop a culture of improvement and excellence, rather than a culture of blame.
I accept that, as Trish Godman said, some people in the profession are a bit disappointed by the review and think that it is not radical enough. For example, there is no designated minister for social work. I do not think that any of us would argue for more ministers, and I am sure that the First Minister would not want a larger number of ministers than he has at the moment. However, it may be possible to bring together portfolios and to give one minister responsibility for social work, rather than splitting it up between ministers. That is happening to a certain extent in any case.
There has been criticism of how long it took to carry out the review, but it is part of a more general reform and modernisation of public services to make them fit for the 21st century. Christine Grahame and others referred to a silo mentality that resulted in people in health, social work and criminal justice not speaking to one another, but we are gradually getting rid of that. It is difficult to change cultures and to require people to work together, but that is essential if we are to provide seamless services that meet the needs of individuals. Individuals do not care who gives them support—they care about whether the support that they need is available.
The public sector has much to deal with. It must adapt to the challenges of demographic change and addiction, but the way forward that we have identified of trying to modernise public services is to be welcomed. I am sure that the journey will not always be easy, but it is worth while for us to progress along the road. I hope that we will work together in a spirit of consensus to achieve the objectives that we all have.
- Mr Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con):
It is disappointing that more members were not in the chamber to hear the excellent speeches that have been made, especially the speech by Trish Godman, who was a respected social worker. It was good of her to share her knowledge with the rest of us.
I am told that one of the aims of the review of social work was to reassess what a social worker is. My experience is that social workers are good people. They are well intentioned, but they often get a bad press—they are damned if they do and damned if they do not. They often get the blame for mistakes that happen even if they are not responsible for them. When things go wrong, it is easy to blame the social worker.
Most social workers at the coalface are extremely conscientious and they work well with other sharp-end workers such as the police, doctors and district nurses. The problem seems to arise at the management level, where collaboration breaks down because of fights over budgets and work territory. At times, there appears to be a clash between child psychologists, nurses, health visitors and social workers even though, ultimately, they all want the same outcome for their clients—that is, the removal of the problem. That appears to be due to the way in which services are run, rather than the fault of the people who provide them.
We Conservatives have continually called for a unified budget for health and social care and for improved interagency care. If we want social workers to deal with the minefield of problems that arise in child protection, they must have high-quality training so that they are competent to do that work.
It is imperative that the protection of the child is the priority, even if that means removing that child from the family from whom he or she may be at risk. Most of the failures in the system, such as the case of Michael McGarrity, who survived trapped and alone in a flat for three weeks after his mother had died, have involved bad interagency work and poor communication between different agencies.
My colleague James Douglas-Hamilton mentioned a report about the assessment of children in need in Ayrshire and West Lothian. That report found that concerns remain about standards of recording and the depth of analysis of the evidence on how agencies work together to complete assessments. The 21st century social work review identifies too much bureaucracy and information gathering as weaknesses. We therefore need strong leadership that will unify the different agencies into giving social workers the detailed information that they need to do their jobs properly. They need not only the information, but the funding.
It is all very well to expect social workers to work hard to complete detailed assessments of the needs of a child or an elderly person. However, what is the point of that work being done if the funding is not there to fulfil those needs? How incredibly frustrating and what a blow to morale it must be when social workers see their efforts blocked by the Scottish Executive's failure to properly fund its promises. The Executive will blame the local authorities, but it cannot get away from its promise to provide free personal care.
Both of my parents have recently been in four different hospitals, and during my visits I talked to many doctors, nurses and social workers. I was horrified to learn that in Argyll and Bute not one home care package has been arranged since November and that there have been no referrals from the Oban hospital to nursing homes since Christmas. That has impinged on the hospital, resulting in bedblocking and delayed discharge. That in turn has caused fury and low morale among the hard-working people in Argyll and Bute who are trying to do their jobs. I know that other councils in Scotland are in a similar position.
As well as the problems that the doctors, nurses and social workers face, what about the angst, misery, pain and disillusionment that are caused to those people who suffer because their needs are not being fulfilled? What about those who believed in the Liberal Democrat and Labour Party promise on free personal care? They now realise that that was perhaps a hollow promise to win votes—the Scottish Executive is not delivering what it promised to the people of Scotland. I would be delighted if the minister were to offer an explanation for that fiasco.
We Conservatives cautiously welcome the response to the 21st century social work review, which is overdue. However, we reassert that the Executive must work harder to create a more helpful infrastructure in which our social workers can produce real and rewarding results from their undoubted labours. The Executive must not continue to let down our social workers.
Highly qualified social workers must be given the autonomy to use their considerable powers of judgment, and ministers must create the conditions that will encourage successful outcomes. I agree with Willie Roe, the chairman of the review group, who said:
"We need to harness all our resources and expertise to design services around the needs of people, delivering the right outcomes for the people who use them. That means finding new ways of working that position social work services alongside the work of their partners in the public, voluntary and private sectors. Together we will need to shift the balance towards a much greater focus on preventing problems and intervening early to resolve them."
Those are wise words, but will the Executive listen to them?
Above all, the Scottish Executive must ensure that social workers' assessments can be followed through with action. Is it not time for the blame game between the Scottish Executive and the councils to end? Adequate funding must be provided so that councils can meet the Scottish Executive's commitments.
- The Deputy Presiding Officer:
I call Fiona Hyslop to close for the SNP. I am happy to award you nine minutes, with compensation for interventions.
- Fiona Hyslop (Lothians) (SNP):
Thank you, Presiding Officer; you are very generous.
We were particularly fortunate to hear about Trish Godman's experiences. Scott Barrie is absent, but I know that he will be disappointed not to have contributed; I am sure that he will make his views known to the minister in due course.
We have had an interesting, informed and considered debate, apart from the minister's sedentary distraction during our discussion of the Swedish model. I did not know that he had such an interest in Saab cars.
The minister said that the review represents a coming of age for social work—my daughter might be a bit disappointed if she has to wait until she is 38 to get the keys to the door. Adam Ingram pointed out that society has changed. In the past 40 years, the safety net for a socially cohesive society has become fragmented and there are many new challenges, not least the drugs challenge, which many members mentioned. When we consider that 50,000 children are being referred to children's panels, we realise the scale of what we are dealing with, although we could view those referrals as an opportunity to secure resources. One of the tests of whether the review delivers will be whether children need to be referred to children's panels for resources to be secured.
There was some consistency in the speeches and some useful points that we can take forward. Leadership is critical. The review talks about the increased role for the chief social work officer within the council, but leadership needs to come from the top and there is a real challenge for the Executive in how it deals with that. That should be considered in the consultation and the response.
Many members, including Trish Godman, suggested that we should have a minister for social work. It is increasingly difficult to reconcile community care, criminal justice and social work within the potential silos of the civil service and the Executive. It would be helpful if the minister would address how the Executive will change as part of that leadership challenge, part of which involves recognising the Executive's delivery mechanisms and responsibilities. Euan Robson mentioned the Social Work Inspection Agency, but—oh dear—it appears that we forgot to legislate for inspectors, hence the reference to social work inspectors in part 2 of the Joint Inspection of Children's Services and Inspection of Social Work Services (Scotland) Bill.
Will the minister address the issue of legislation? I understand that although legislation will be introduced as a result of the review, that will not happen until 2008, yet we are faced with legislation on adoption and in relation to Bichard. We are also looking forward to the introduction of legislation on children's hearings. I would have thought that legislation on social work and on children's hearings would have been compatible if they had been delivered together. I am concerned about any slippage in timescale and I would be interested to know when we might expect to have all those pieces so that we can deliver for the people of Scotland.
There is scepticism and concern about the paraprofessionals. They represent an opportunity, but Christine Grahame made an important point about the protection of title. The suggestion about regulation should be taken up. We should remember the idea of a ladder of progression into social work, which arose when the Education Committee considered child protection. The issue of the tens of thousands of people working in care positions should be addressed, in order that we can ensure that they make progress and, if they so wish, can join the profession, having completed the required training. Perhaps we should be a bit more open minded; the consultation and the Executive's response will have to address that area.
Points were made about research and degrees. One of the proposals that was mentioned during this morning's debate on volunteering was that because so much social work and care is provided by the voluntary sector, working with the voluntary sector must be part and parcel of the training for social workers. That proposal, which came from Volunteer Development Scotland, should be considered when we talk about joined-up thinking.
Euan Robson, who has obviously not lost his passion for the subject of social work, stressed the importance of ownership and pride, as did Lord James Douglas-Hamilton. A point that has been repeated by many members—it was made by William Roe, too—is that we have to start now; early establishment of the national social work services forum that the minister mentioned would be a signal that we agree on that point. Such a forum could hit the ground running; legislation and other aspects could come later. Why not set up the forum early? Doing so, and having joint ownership of it with the profession—as I think is implied—would be a good step forward.
Funding is critical. No one denies that there are more social workers than before or that the input of resources has increased, but the central issue, as raised by Mary Scanlon and others, is that demand has increased. That demand is twofold—it is a result of the societal problems that we have talked about with child protection and drugs, but it is also a result of legislation that has been introduced. To return to the issue of joined-up thinking, we should reflect on yesterday's debate on the local government settlement, in which Des McNulty, the convener of the Finance Committee, made the important statement that, when legislation has been passed, its implications must be considered. When subject committees consider bills, they receive the Finance Committee's report on the financial memorandum—I see Elaine Murray, who is a member of the Finance Committee, nodding. I am not sure of the extent to which the consideration of certain financial memorandums has addressed the implications for social workers—perhaps the Finance Committee operates on a higher plane. We all have a duty to examine the interrelations.
Last week at First Minister's question time, the First Minister was asked about children from drug misusing families and the implications of their situation. I understand that the crisis in the provision of foster care places and the concerns about temporary accommodation are serious. If we are to have policy shifts and changes, please let them not be, as Carolyn Leckie said, changes in responsibilities without sufficient resources to match. That will be an important factor in considering the policy change that has come from the First Minister. The rationale for that change, the delivery and, not least, the resources that are made available should be subject to serious scrutiny.
Trish Godman was absolutely right to mention the absence of an independent review of funding. Her comments echoed those that were made in one of the first debates in the Parliament in 1999, on local government, during which everybody said, "Hang on; where is the local government funding review?" We should take the opportunity to have such a review for social work. There is not a bottomless pit of money, but we must address the escalation in local government expenditure on children's services. At a time when we have an aging population, we do not want to rob Peter to pay Paul in social work provision—we do not want funding for young people to be provided at the expense of the elderly. We have a responsibility to face up to that issue.
Integrated working in social work and health is important, whether it takes place in schools or cafes. I indicated that I would take an intervention from the minister on that point, so I give way now.
- Peter Peacock:
It is obvious that Fiona Hyslop is running out of things to say, so I will help her out. On a point that she made earlier, to which she has just alluded, I want to be clear that we are not talking about not having integrated community schools; we are saying that the concept of integration is caught up in the modern concept of an excellent school. A school is not excellent unless it is integrated—that is the spirit in which we are making progress.
- Fiona Hyslop:
I thank the minister for his intervention, but I want to address the issue of communication. Mary Scanlon made a point about health services, care services and councils working together. That happens in West Lothian. When I saw the system in early 2000, it worked well and could have been a template for child protection; indeed, I understand that it now is such a template, although that has taken five years.
Susan Deacon raised the issues of leadership and risk, which are absolutely central. The members of the Executive and the Parliament must, as politicians, take a leadership role in ensuring that we have a temperate and realistic debate about risk. We do not want to wrap children in Scotland in cotton wool, but we must accept that, with child protection issues, everybody must look closer to home. It is easier to blame or have concerns about the stranger in the dark but, if we are serious about tackling the problems of drugs or child abuse, we must accept that the issue is closer to home. In that debate, we must embrace the proposals of the social work review.
I commend all those who took part in the review, which has opened the door for a new phase and era for the social work profession. However, social workers cannot and must not walk through that door alone. Whether they have to try to do so will be the test of the success of implementation.
- The Deputy Minister for Education and Young People (Robert Brown):
The debate has been one of the best that I have heard and in which I have participated in the Parliament. I thank all members for their speeches, which finished with the excellent speech that we have just heard from Fiona Hyslop. In the time that is available to me, I will not be able to respond to all the points that have been made, but I undertake to read the Official Report of the meeting.
We will want to ponder a number of matters, in any event. Indeed, the minister made his initial response to Willie Roe's report in the context of taking matters forward, discussing and considering implications, taking a reasonable amount of time over the detailed response and very much moving towards an action plan for implementation. The social work agenda is probably one of the most important agendas to come before the Parliament. It is important that we get it right.
I start by thanking the social workers and the social work workforce of Scotland for their contribution. It is important, as many speakers said, that we move towards recognition of the society in which we live and the way in which social workers must interact with it. Indeed, that very much lies behind the report, which tries to focus on what social work, in its broadest context, can best do to change lives. The title of the report—"Changing Lives"—is very much the right one. Elaine Murray talked earlier about the fact that social workers go into their profession to change lives, and we want to concentrate on that. They certainly do not go into social work just to process children's hearings referrals or complete reports, per se. Sandra White touched on the implications of that.
We must regard the report that we have before us today as part of a wide series of different reports and actions that are coming together—for example, on adoption and fostering, on the Bichard report, on the reform of children's hearings and on the social care and early years workforce. All those things together add up to a major and radical programme of reform.
It is clear that we live in a society that is different from that of 1968, when the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 was passed, or 1971, when the 1968 act came into force. That is perhaps borne out by the fact that there has been a sixfold increase in the number of social workers in Scotland since then. A central part of today's debate is to identify the best use to make of that resource. We can have arguments about the statistics—I will come back to that in a minute—but the workforce cannot expand indefinitely. We must concentrate first on what it can best do, free it up to do that and then assess whether we have the right level of resource for the detailed challenges that we face.
One challenge, of course, is the problem of addiction in society. I was very much horror-struck, as were other members of the Education Committee—it sticks in my mind to this day—by the statistic that one child in 56 in Scotland is born to drug-abusing parents. That is not the fault of Governments, per se, whether this Government or past Governments, but it is a social phenomenon for which Governments must provide, as far as they can, solutions and responses—no doubt, Governments contribute to solutions. That challenging social phenomenon is mixed up with a series of other challenging phenomena that are coming at the same time. That is the background against which the whole agenda operates.
Transforming social work services will be a challenging task that, as Peter Peacock rightly said, will take a number of years to bring to fruition. Of course, we are not starting from scratch. In many respects, we are building on many years of good practice, and for every intervention about which there may have been issues, there have been many successful interventions in people's lives. We have already achieved much that, as a country, we can be proud of. Almost 8,500 social workers are registered with the Scottish Social Services Council, which provided regulation for the profession for the first time. The new honours degree in social work is established and will produce the first of a new generation of professionals later this year. That very much links into the question of leadership, which is one of the key themes of the debate.
We have turned around the problems of recruiting social workers, with a 30 per cent reduction in the number of vacancies since 2003. We do not have the level of problem that some people have said we have. Social worker levels in Glasgow, for example, are pretty much up to establishment levels, with a 5 per cent shortfall. I think that that is a significant achievement. However, that is a different question from whether numbers have been set at the right level. As I said, we will have to return to that issue once we have identified more clearly the contribution that social workers can make. However, there have been considerable changes in the figures.
On moving forward towards action, Fiona Hyslop rightly asked about when the legislation will be introduced and about the action that we were taking in that regard. We will need to contemplate the pressures that will come from the Bichard bill and from other proposed social work legislation. Fiona Hyslop rightly identified the linkages between social work and the children's hearings system—after all, both were dealt with in the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968. We will try to make announcements to Parliament very soon about that.
- Christine Grahame:
I wish to raise two points with the minister. First, I welcome the idea of a consolidation bill. Certainly, the Planning etc (Scotland) Bill, which we are considering, is not such a bill and, in my view, is a bit of a mess. Secondly, I raised the issue of regulations in my speech. Is the minister contemplating regulations that will define the role of a social worker, their duties and obligations, with separate regulations defining those of a paraprofessional?
- Robert Brown:
I will come to that issue later. First, we need to consider the action plan and implementation.
It is proposed that the social work services forum, which Fiona Hyslop asked about, will be established as soon as possible. We intend to have the first full meeting of the forum in April. There is no holding back, and it is important that that work goes forward.
There are many parallels between this area and others in terms of the challenges that are faced. The linkages with other areas are also important. Issues relating to leadership come out in education and health, as do the issues of professional development, accountability and the ways in which the skills of the best people can be used at the coalface. The issue of the support that is provided by paraprofessionals also arises in various areas—in relation to classroom assistants, for example. We need to define that role, and that work will form part of the role of the forum and of the other agencies that will be involved in the implementation programme.
Putting community well-being at the heart of social work is important. A lot of work is already taking place and is going forward.
I want to touch on one or two of the specific comments that have been made this afternoon.
Adam Ingram and a number of others spoke about the changes in society. The statistics are worth dwelling on for a moment. Some £2.4 billion goes into social work every year. That is a substantial sum of money and we need to be sure that we get proper value out of it. The workforce has grown by 44 per cent in the past decade. As I said, the number of qualified social workers has risen sixfold since 1971 and vacancy levels are going down. In addition, social work student levels are up by 38 per cent since 2001. A lot of the indicators are going in the right direction and are widening the resource in a way that will give us the potential to take action.
In what was one of the many extremely able speeches that were made today, Euan Robson talked about social work having been in a siding for some years. That is absolutely correct, and we are trying to bring it out of the siding and into the mainstream position that it should have in relation to the way in which we deal with a number of society's problems. He also talked about the strategy for the social services workforce, which was announced in November.
In a helpful speech, Carolyn Leckie, like others, talked about the need for joined-up thinking in areas such as health and bedblocking or social work and children on supervision not having to wait to be allocated a social worker. Joined-up thinking is part of the issue and, to illustrate the point, I should say that the point of the children's hearings review is that we want to deal with the problems before people get to a hearing so that we can reduce the associated bureaucracy, which will not be necessary if people are able to access services.
- The Deputy Presiding Officer:
I am reluctant to interrupt the minister but, as members who took part in the rather excellent debate that we have had this afternoon would like to hear the minister's responses, I must say that I would be grateful if members could sit quietly through the remaining exchanges.
- Robert Brown:
Carolyn Leckie made another important point that goes to the heart of some of the issues when she spoke about local authorities' statutory responsibilities and the way in which social work departments are blamed. We have to have joined-up thinking about that. Local authorities have corporate responsibility and we have to encapsulate that in practice. Many of our difficulties in Scotland relate to issues that fall between the stools of various agencies. We have to keep that at the heart of what we are trying to do.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, in an excellent speech, made a number of worthy points about moving away from blame culture, interagency problems and so on. People have already talked about Trish Godman's speech, which helped us to understand some of the issues that are involved in the area that we are discussing.
Paraprofessionals are not new, but we will have to define their role more precisely. That will be part of the on-going work. The right mix of skills in a team will improve access to services and ensure that highly skilled professionals are using their expertise effectively to make a difference for our most vulnerable people.
The review process began against a background of a number of tragedies but it ends with a major opportunity to transform social work services into services that we will all be proud to use and which will make differences.
Achieving the transformational change that is set out in "Changing Lives" will not be easy or quick. However, the report represents the fundamental modernisation of the way in which we design and deliver services, building on the capacity of the services and the workforce to respond to changing demands and on the capacity of the client, who is an important part of the picture.
Such change will require clear and consistent leadership. Social services are vital to many in our society, and high-class, targeted services make a big difference to the quality of life of many vulnerable people. Today, we have started that process. We need to continue the debate about the future shape of services, underpinning them with legislation and the action plan that will lay the foundations for social work for the next 40 years. That is the challenge, and I am grateful to members for the contributions that they have made to the debate.