UNISON Scotland is pleased to be able to respond to the Education
Committee's inquiry into child protection and to pass on our views
regarding the progress of the recommendations contained
in the report "It's Everyone's Job To Make Sure I'm Alright".
- UNISON Scotland is disappointed at much of the recent ill-informed
comments regarding Social Work. We believe that the simplistic
approach to criticism of Social Work stems for a lack of knowledge
among politicians and the public about the range, complexity
and inter-dependence of Social Work Services.
- We believe that our elected representatives especially, as
well as the media, should recognise that social work staff are
employed in difficult circumstances with the most vulnerable
people in the community. UNISON Scotland believes that politicians
and the media would be better served challenging these negative
portrayals of the service and promoting a positive understanding
of the role of social workers.
- We believe that one of the priorities within social work should
be to ensure that workers at the front line of child protection
have the necessary resources, support and management that they
deserve to do their jobs.
- However, UNISON Scotland feels that the key issue of 'resources'
has not been sufficiently addressed by those responsible for
driving forward the outlined recommendations.
- Whilst the Children (Scotland) Act, new standards for assessment,
joint investigation etc have rightly increased general child
protection expectations, UNISON Scotland believes these have
not been matched by the resources to effectively deliver these
- In addition, whilst UNISON Scotland recognises that there
has been increased investment through the Changing Children's
Services Fund and through Youth Crime initiatives, we are of
the opinion that these have been at the expense of core child
protection and child-care services.
- This is partly because the funding is ‘ring-fenced', partly
because staff in core services have been attracted to these
new initiatives with no new recruits to ‘back fill' and partly
because similar increased funding has not been available for
core child protection functions.
- It is clear to UNISON Scotland that current minimum staffing
levels are insufficient to deliver the quality of service required.
Staff availability in Children & Families services has in
many areas actually reduced over the last 10-12 years when the
expectations on such staff have vastly increased.
- UNISON Scotland members in Social Work can testify to the
extent, which Children & Families Social Work services are
under pressure all over, Scotland, largely because of the difficulties
in recruiting staff to social work posts. While some of this
is being addressed by the Scottish Executive in the form of
training initiatives, UNISON Scotland is concerned that these
will take time to filter through and that there are still several
years of critical difficulties ahead of us.
- UNISON Scotland also believes there is a key issue in understanding
the concept of working with risk and what is meant by risk assessment.
Staff working in this difficult area need to have the support
of the Executive in articulating and assisting a public understanding
of working with risk (see under Recommendation 12).
- UNISON Scotland believes it is difficult to make long term
plans about the delivery of child protection services without
addressing the fundamental problem of resources, training and
remuneration, particularly in social care services. As such
priority must be given to a Scottish-wide review of social care
addressing resources, training, structures, remuneration and
UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union representing
over 145,000 members working in the public sector. UNISON Scotland
represents workers from social work services throughout Scotland,
with members employed as social workers, residential care workers
and others administrating and supporting the social work team.
We welcome the opportunity to comment on the
issue of Child Protection and the wider concerns of our members
who work within Children & Families Social Work services throughout
Scotland. We believe this inquiry to be timely, particularly given
the current problems in recruitment, retention, job status and
pay, along with the increasing pressures facing social workers
This paper constitutes UNISON Scotland's response
to the to the Scottish Parliament's Education Committee call for
evidence on Child Protection
UNISON Scotland believes that there should be clearer guidance
on the application of the Data Protection Act and issues of patient
confidentiality to assist medical and other staff in deciding
when they can disclose information where a child may be at risk.
The situation tends to be clearer when the child is the patient,
however there are complications when the patient is the parent.
This can be particularly difficult in cases of unborn children
where there are known risks from other adults, or where the parent's
drug use or mental health may be a risk factor and other agencies
need access to this information in order to assess risk.
The O'Brien Report in particular but also Lord Laming's report
both refer to these problems.
UNISON Scotland believes that an inherent weakness of CPC's is
their detachment from practice on the ground. Many of our members
regard CPC's as a senior management concept that is unresponsive
and lacks real interaction with those employed in frontline social
As such, we believe that during the current review of CPC's,
the Executive should be exploring methods for ensuring that CPC's
retain a greater level of engagement with social work practice
on the ground.
UNISON Scotland welcomes the concept of audits and quality assurance.
However, we also believe that the resource implications of this
recommendation have not been properly addressed.
In addition, it is the experience of UNISON Scotland members
within social work that formal audits are time consuming and remove
staff from service delivery tasks, further adding pressure on
UNISON Scotland believes that in scrutinising public services
it should be recognised that there is a wide range of factors,
which determine the performance of public services. These include
the funding available, access, the service environment and relationships
with users and the wider community. As such, we believe that the
performance management outlook used by the private sector is not
directly compatible with use on public services.
Recommendations 4 and 5
Child Protection Committees have a key role in bringing together
the agencies and departments responsible for child protection.
However, it is still the case that in most areas they do not have
the power to demand levels of service or practice from individual
agencies. UNISON Scotland believes that this situation is to the
overall detriment of effective child protection in Scotland and
must be addressed in the current review of CPC's.
UNISON Scotland also believes that the current review should
look closely at their ability of CPC's to deliver both at corporate
or strategic level and at local/community/neighbourhood level.
It should also examine the capacity of CPC's to fully involve
the practitioners at the level of social worker, health visitor,
general practitioner, local police services, local education services,
housing and voluntary organisations. This is where the key communication
lines are most critical.
An examination of the role of Child Protection Committees should
also take into consideration other strategies for dealing with
inter-agency co-operation such as Children's Services Forums examine
how joint information on practice and guidelines could be facilitated
UNISON Scotland especially welcomes the recommendation that the
Scottish Executive consult on the issue of Child Fatality Reviews.
UNISON Scotland has long had concerns about the present ad hoc
nature of inquiries and their varying quality.
UNISON Scotland believes that the Scottish Executive should facilitate
a consistent approach to investigating, one which focuses on lessons
to be learned and best evidence for affecting outcomes rather
than a blame-based approach. It is our view that Local Authorities
should also be encouraged to have defined internal procedures
for reviewing and investigating cases involving the death of a
UNISON Scotland believes that a co-ordinated approach to collating
and disseminating research and theory on child protection is essential
to developing and improving the service.
However, it should be remembered that there are also resource
implications. Whilst it may be quite a straightforward task to
collate and disseminate, current workloads carried by core staff
make it difficult to create the time for reading, researching
and indeed training.
UNISON Scotland welcomes research in this area and believes that,
where possible, this should directly involve practitioners.
Recommendations 9 and 10
UNISON Scotland strongly believes that allocation of resources
is the key issue in Children Services Plans. We have commented
on resources in terms of core practitioners but one of the most
frustrating resource gaps for these practitioners is the lack
of protective or preventative measures.
The shortfall in foster placements and the crisis in availability
of residential care and education placements constitute a major
difficulty for staff working with children. Placements that protect
and contribute to the enhancement of children's lives are placements
that are matched to their needs and available at the point they
are needed, as clearly outlined by the Edinburgh Inquiry.
However, it is the experience of our members that in many areas
access to placements is more often based simply on their availability
at the time. This continues to mean that all too often children
are left in risk situations, sometimes even with a Place of Safety
or Child Protection Order, when there is no available resource.
This situation is obviously detrimental to effective child protection
in Scotland and one which we believe requires a re-assessment
by the Scottish Executive of the projections made about the level
of resources needed in the future and the funding necessary to
Whilst UNISON Scotland welcomes the development of positive childhood
initiatives, it should be remembered that they will usually rely
on a network of services geared to enhancing childhood and family
experience and which are also crucially geared to prevention of
The general theme from our membership throughout Scotland is
that preventative services are often not a statutory duty and
therefore have been the first to be hit when resources have to
For example, Edinburgh has to spend some £20million over GAE
to maintain its Social Work services. UNISON Scotland believes
that there is a clear role for the Scottish Executive to back
up its recommendations with the funding to make their implementation
Joint funded initiatives are welcome, especially on the basis
of matched outcomes. The key to assessing the effectiveness of
services to children and families is an assessment of what works.
All too often the assessment is made on the basis of questionable
‘common sense'. This is particularly important in relation to
parents with drug use problems where the need for services extends
beyond those directly aimed at children.
This recommendation is already best practice in many areas. It
goes without saying that it needs to be matched by resources.
Rarely are practitioners currently in the position of having an
ideal plan and a contingency plan. All too often there can only
be a pragmatic response based on the resources available.
Crucially, UNISON Scotland believes that their needs to be an
understanding at all levels about what it means to assess and
work with risk. Practitioners do not and should not think defensively.
They must be given recognition for the fact they work with risk.
One issue here is raised by the North East Child Protection Committee
Inquiry into the death of Carla Bone, particularly in relation
to resources and whether there is a common understanding across
agencies of the concept of terms like ‘risk' and ‘concern'.
UNISON Scotland believes that an understanding of working with
risk also requires corporate support for the people having to
work with that risk. If there is an assessed 90% chance that a
child will not come to harm, there is still a 10% chance that
they will. There can be no absolute certainties and there will
always be a tension between legitimate liberties, freedom and
privacy and the need to protect children. UNISON Scotland believes
that this needs to be formally recognised and articulated at the
The majority of evidence points to the need to have well resourced
and organised risk assessment systems and therapeutic support
after initial assessment and investigations. This is the phase
when the real child protection work is done and the ongoing assessment
and balance of risk becomes most important. UNISON Scotland believes
that this area of social work needs to be addressed with more
preventative services and community supports.
Recommendations 13 and 14
UNISON Scotland broadly supports the principles outlined. However,
we also believe that the recommendations do not explicitly address
the tensions inherent in ‘voluntary' and ‘compulsory' measures.
The concept of parents' co-operation probably leading to there
being no need or justification for compulsory measures was poorly
understood by the O'Brien Inquiry and is generally misunderstood
by the public at large. UNISON Scotland believes that greater
clarity is needed about guidelines and thresholds.
UNISON welcomes this recommendation and notes that Lord Laming's
report made specific reference to information sharing and the
use (or lack of availability) of shared ICT systems. However,
as mentioned above, UNISON Scotland believes that there needs
to be considerably more clarity about the legal context in which
information gathered for one purpose can be shared for another.
The lack of clarity remains a key problem for professionals in
In addition, UNISON Scotland believes that the current proliferation
of recording forms within Social Work Services to Children, currently
three different sets of unrelated forms are required to be completed,
In effect it means more form filling for records which has the
ability to affect child protection work capacity. It is the view
of our members in social work that a standard single record would
be better suited to the task of child protection.
UNISON Scotland agrees that minimum training standards are required
but also recognises that the reality of service delivery has to
It is the experience of our membership that where local authorities
have set down such standards, recruitment problems have made them
very difficult to operate. Again, resources are a major issue
and if unrealistic standards are set they may only serve to reduce
the availability of staff in a sector that is already suffering
significant staffing shortages.
UNISON welcomes a regular review of performance but, as we have
outlined throughout this response, there is also a need to review
this in the context of the resources available.