Transcript: Influencing policy: relationships matter

Iona Colvin, Chief Social Work Adviser at Scottish Government, speaks about the importance of relationships at the newly qualified social worker conference.

Podcast Episode: Influencing policy: relationships matter

Category: Social work (general) 


What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.

Shaping our future: relationships matters 31 May 2019.

IC - Iona Colvin

IC I am really pleased to be here, and really pleased to see you all, newly-qualified social workers. There’s a few people planted in the audience that I recognise who are certainly not newly-qualified social workers, but we’ll just ignore them and we’ll talk to you!

Ok, so my name is Iona Colvin and I’m the Chief Social Work Adviser for the Government, and I’ve been doing this job for two years now, just over two years. Before that I was Director of Health and Social Care in Ayrshire and before that Director of Social Work in North Ayrshire - and have been working in social work for quite a long time.

My job basically is to give advice to Ministers, and it is about giving advice. It doesn’t mean they always take your advice. I also work with civil servants right across the policy field.

Now, it took me a long time to work out how government works…. I still haven’t really… there’s a couple of my colleagues up the back there who have been in the civil service a lot longer than me. But basically, the way that government works is it’s split into policy teams across different areas, and for social work that means it is split into criminal justice (which is a separate team that deals with all the criminal justice stuff), children and families and health and social care. And they don’t often actually all talk to each other, so I’m sure you as a practitioner will notice that quite a lot when you start to see stuff coming out of government. But it’s something to bear in mind when you think, “Why are they doing that?” And that’s one of the kind of areas of work that I’m working in the government on: “Why do we do that? Why don’t we join things up and why don’t we be more holistic - which is what you guys aim to be basically.”

We have a Ministerial Forum - I’m not going to labour it - it’s just that the Minister Chairs the group, which talks about Social Work, that brings all the different players together. I’m not convinced we use it to the best influence that we could and we can probably use it more - but the important agencies around this are the people who actually employ you or will employ you if you are yet to get a job and that’s usually the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, and the third sector…. are really important. And I work with the Chief Nursing Officer and the Chief Medical Officer as well.

Importantly, I also work really closely with Social Work Scotland and SASW (Scottish Association of Social Work) and really that’s about how we raise the profile of Social Work in Scotland - something that I think we need to think about as we go on.

When you, and most of you presumably have been on placements, and you’ll have been working within local authority or within third sector settings - practice in Scotland I think now is quite different and really the way things are organised is around partnerships, Health and Social Care Partnerships particularly, and we passed legislation in 2014, I think it was, 2012. I’m getting them all mixed up … ! about public bodies which are responsible for the delivery of health and social care. I think it would be fair to say there’s still a lot more to do around that agenda, but basically what that means for practitioners is much more working closely with other professions, particularly with nursing and with Allied Health professions.

The important thing to remember about the Public Bodies Act, is, and the key phrase in the legislation for me is that it is about being seamless around, it’s about seamless services, delivered from the point of view of the people who use them. And I am sure there are not many people in this room who would disagree with that. It’s about how you organise services around the best outcomes for people. Now we are not there yet, it is very clear, but we are beginning to see some encouraging practice.

And a lot of these partnership - in fact all three partnerships - have at their heart, the ethos of joining up services around the people who need them. So, the second one there is about Getting it Right for Every Child, and I’m sure that all of you have been taught and have worked in the Getting it Right for Every Child context. Again, we have been doing a lot of work around Getting it Right for Every Child in Scotland. We have been out talking to all local authorities across Scotland. We have got three more to do. We are doing them next week - Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire and East Dunbartonshire. We have been everywhere in the country talking to people about “How well do you think we are doing in Scotland in terms of joining up things around children’s outcomes?” And the answer again is mixed, so. But you will practice in much more multi-disciplinary settings. There’s lots of really good things going on in Scotland, but there’s lots of areas where we need to improve. But basically, we are talking about how we work together to deliver for people.

And the final partnership there is the newest one, the Community Justice Partnership - which is, and it makes sense…that’s about all the agencies that work together around people who are involved in offending - the prisons, the police, social work clearly and the judiciary and health coming together basically to look at how we work across a system in relation to justice, and how we begin to have an impact on the numbers of people involved in offending, the impact on their families and actually get to the root of why people are involved in offending. And I know that all of you know that most people involved in offending have a drug problem, alcohol problem or a mental health difficulty. And at the moment I’m leading some work which is looking at how do we respond in prisons to the needs of the population in prison and we are looking at developing a new joined up health and social care response within prison which will very much be about how do we join with the outside world. So that’s where we are…

All of that is about the policy that our Government has decided to take at various stages over the last 10 years really - and there are various reasons for it. But I think one of the things I want to get across to you is, that it’s really important - and I know it won’t always seem important to you when you are really busy and you are working at the front line - but it’s really important that you actually get engaged in the discussion around some of this, and we are keen to promote that discussion and involve people much more who are actually working in the services as well as the people who use your services and with whom you work. And there’s going to be an ongoing debate really around all of this partnership working, so I would encourage you all to think about how you play into that, and we are certainly talking to the people who are likely to be your employers about how you play into that.

So, that’s the context I think, in terms of practice. There’s lot of issues around it. But for me, one of the things that we need to be clear about is the clarity of the social work contribution. And often it can become a reductionist thing - it’s often about, well you’ve got all these legal powers and legal duties and you go out and you take the children into care, or you go out and you do the court report, or you go out as a Mental Health Officer- in all of that you are making really important decisions about people’s liberty, you are making really important decisions about the future of those individuals and their families. I think the thing that we underplay all the time in social work - and I am glad to see that Colin Turbett is running a workshop around community social work - is our ability and our understanding of people in the context of their families and their communities - and that many other professions - they have many other strengths - do not see that. They see people as a fragmented part of their life, presenting as the patient, out of context, in a hospital. And I would encourage you all to make sure that you raise your voices around all of that in terms of, and don’t ever think that everybody else knows what you know in terms of that holistic approach and that holistic understanding that you will have about people and their families, and about why they have become involved in the situation they have become involved in, and what has happened to them. Because you will understand that. Do not assume that others round about you understand that.'

Which brings me to the second point which is about - and it’s the most talked about thing about relationship-based approaches… and I’ve no doubt that you have had a lot of discussion about this.

I think the thing about relationship-based approaches, is that it’s not news to Social worker’s that what’s really important to people is how you actually engage directly. What’s difficult at times is how you sustain that. And there’s a lot of work going on just now to look at all of that. But I think it’s really important to remember that your role, and the way you engage with people - particularly people who have difficulties- is really important - and I’ve talked to a lot of the young people involved in the independent care review for example, who say very clearly, the single most important thing to them was a trusted adult - be that a teacher, or sometimes a social worker, or sometimes a nurse, but most often it’s a teacher or a social worker actually. That’s what made the difference, somebody who believed in them, somebody who was prepared to go the extra mile a for them and somebody who actually supported them. And I think, it’s also incumbent on the organisations that employ you to think about that too. And we’ve seen too much reductionism I think, and we need to consider and we are in discussion with COSLA just now, about how do we, what does all of this mean for the way in which social work is organised and the way in which you are supported to be able to practice…. So important policy issues there about how do we work together to be able to better support practice given the impact of some of the cuts that we are currently seeing.

So all of that I think, is for me, the important bit about the practice improvement and evidence, is around how confident and competent you feel in practising with others. And it’s often easy, particularly in the face of the health services to think, oh they’ve got all these years of history and they talk about clinical this and clinical that and evidence and all. We need to do more of that -not about clinical, but about evidence. We are working around evidence, but we also need to be clear about our role.

So, there are a number of things we are doing in government to help with all of this, there are lots of things we are doing, but I’m only going to talk about a couple of them. In the next couple of weeks - maybe next week actually - or the week after, we are about to publish a National H&SC Workforce Plan. Alastair over there is thinking, oh for God’s sake they have been talking about this for years, ‘cause we have been talking about it for years because it’s taken two years to get here! (laughs) And that’s because the National H&SC Workforce Plan is complicated - it’s the first time we’ve had a workforce plan for the whole of health care and social work and social care. And it’s not really the perfect thing, I have to say. So when you read it, please bear that in mind. It’s a work in progress. The NHS publish workforce plans every year and they say ’these are all the tasks we need to complete, here are the number of doctors we need, here are the number of nurses we need, here are the number of allied health professionals we need, the number of pharmacists, whoever.’ This workforce plan will try and address the workforce of the whole of the NHS for Scotland, 32 LAs, and about 2,000 third sector and independent organisations so you can see why it’s been complicated in pulling it together. But it is beginning to look at what do we need for the future in terms of a workforce in Scotland, and in many areas in Scotland we are used to just, “we have got the workforce we’ve got according to the budget we’ve got.” But this will be the first step towards trying to saying - here’s the kind of demands, here’s what we need our social workers to do, and our social care workers, and what workforce do we actually need. So I just wanted to mention it, because it will be out and these are all the things it is going to look at. It needs to look at more than that, and we need to make a step change in it.

The bit that I think you will be interested in is how we support social workers and we are doing a no. of things around trying to change the way in which social workers are currently supported. And I’m going to talk about some of these briefly and Martin is going to talk about the NQSW year in more depth in a wee while.

So, we are establishing a Social Work Education Partnership - you might think why on earth have you had one before, and basically it goes back to that issue about, we have never planned the workforce before, so we have never actually sat down with the universities and said hey guys, I think we are going to need 600 social workers next year and here are some of the advanced practitioners we are going to need in order to fulfil the roles of social work. So it’s a step towards that. It’s sitting down with the universities and Roisin and others in the room have been heavily involved in this, and saying, and the employers, and saying how do we make sure that we have enough social workers in Scotland for the future. But not only do we have enough social workers but that you are properly supported in your practice, and the first point and our top priority really is actually that there’s enough practice placements for all the students. We should not have students scrambling around looking for practice placements, and all students should have the opportunity to do a practice placement in local authorities. So we are attempting to deal with an issue that has been a big issue in Scotland. I hope that you have all had good practice placements and good opportunities but I really want the people who come after you not to have to worry about their practice placements or wait till the last minute. So we are going to establish this and we are going to support it with some money and some people to work round it and COSLA are very much involved in this and that’s a big step forward for us.

Martin is going to talk about the pilot programmes for the newly-qualified social workers but basically those are the key things that we are looking at - piloting in three locations, we are looking at protected time and protected workloads, and we are looking at a number of issues but I’m not going to dwell on it because Martin is going to talk to you in some detail.

Which brings me to the final bit and the end of kind of what I want to say to you really. Is we are also looking at advanced practice, we are looking at a continuing development and what will you need in the future once you have got through this and you’ve got your feet on the ground and you’ve got a job and you’ve done it, maybe certainly for your first year and your first couple of years. What we want to try and do is put together a national picture of what we want social workers to have in their portfolio. So we will be consulting all of you on that and we will be consulting qualified social workers on this as well. So I would encourage you, we will be do some kind of roadshows I think, it’s actually not us it’s SSSC who we sponsor and who are a non-government body but work for the government on this work. I know SSSC probably means something else to you but they are also responsible for workforce development. It’s the more popular part of SSSC, let’s say that! (laughs)

One of the really important things in this, and this is where we are working hard in government, is that as we pass legislation in the Scottish Government, we need to work with you to identify what skills you need in the future to be able to deliver that legislation - and there’s been far too little of that basically. So, there is lots of legislation coming through the Scottish Parliament in the next two years which will impact on the way in which social work is practiced, both in terms of criminal justice social work and in terms of childcare for example. We are currently reviewing the child protection guidance, we are also looking at the introduction of a Barnabus approach which is about how we ensure that children don’t have to appear in court as witnesses so that we can take statements from them at a standard which is acceptable for court - I’m sure that all of us support that idea. We are looking at - Social Work Scotland and other colleagues have been involved with the Police around looking at standards around joint investigative interviewing, and we are looking at a number of issues around the Mental Health Officer for example, and Alastair and colleagues from SASW have been involved in that.

What I’m saying is, that it’s no longer good enough I think for the government to pass legislation and then just expect you to be able to go out and do it, and what we are trying to do is marry all of this up and say if you want social workers trained to that level - and this will be Masters and beyond level basically - then we need to facilitate that training, we need to support them to be trained and we need to be clear about how many we will need across Scotland. And I suppose all of this is about - and there’s a real debate within government - about how do we actually support you to implement the legislation. One of the biggest things that’s coming frankly will be the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child and the introduction of more human rights approaches within social work generally, within social work assessment and in working in terms of how we support adults, particularly adults with mental health problems and adults with learning difficulty and older adults with dementia. And as you begin to think your way through the implications of some of that legislation and the UNCRC, will be legislated for in Scotland, then you begin to see that they may mean profound changes in the way that we practice and it may also mean profound changes in the legislation as we move to a more human rights based supportive - which I know all of you will support, and I know that’s what you have been trained in, but it looks like as we move the legislation towards that we need to think about it, and we need to think about how much of what we do is deficit based- not that I’m saying your practice is deficit based - because I’m sure that you have all been trained in strengths based practice and holistic practice - but actually a lot of the legislation is deficit-based. So, it’s really important that you get involved in this discussion when it comes round and we will make sure that all employers are asked to get involved in this discussion because it will have profound implications for the way we practice social work, but most importantly it will have profound implications for the people you work with.

So I suppose what I’m saying is -although it might not seem like it when you are really busy and you are up against it - it’s really important that we reflect on the most effective practice but also that we consider what that practice should look like as we go forward in a new legislative and policy context, and at the moment who knows what’s going to happen next week never mind next year at this point in time.

We will do the best that we can around supporting you around implementation of all of this - and not just supporting you as individual practitioners, but your colleagues, and your managers, and your practice leaders and we will look to see how we support that as we go forward.

And I think that’s all I’m going to say at this point, so thank you!

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