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Public Knowledge of and Attitudes to Social Work in Scotland

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Chapter Seven: Perceptions of Social Work Services Among Users

This chapter considers views of social work services among people who have had contact with these services. More specifically it looks at overall satisfaction with social work services, before exploring evaluations of specific aspects of provision.

Use Of Social Work Services

Two in five (39%) of those surveyed had come into contact with social work services at some point in their lives, either personally or through a family member. This figure rose to 44% among those aged 45-64, and to 60% among people who are unable to work, but fell to 32% among younger respondents (16 - 24 year olds) and to 30% among those living in the least deprived areas of the country (table 7.1).

Table 7.1: Profile of users
Q Have you, or has anyone in your household, ever had contact with social work services?

Yes

Base: All respondents, 1,015

%

All

39

Male

39

Female

38

16-24

32

25-34

37

35-44

36

45-54

42

55-64

45

65+

40

Employed

32

Unemployed

54

Unable to work

60

Retired

40

Least deprived areas

30

Most deprived areas

42

Source: MORI

Looking at the specific types of services respondents had used, 14% mentioned general help for older people, and the a similar proportion mentioned help and advice about housing, benefits and debt (13%). Meanwhile, around one in ten mentioned each of residential homes for the elderly, general help for people with disabilities, and occupational therapy, as table 7.2 (below) illustrates.

Table 7.2: Contact with Council services
Q Looking at this list, have you, or has anyone in your household ever used any of the following services provided by your local council?

Contact

Base: All respondents, 1,015

%

General help for older people

14

Help/advice about benefits/housing/debt

13

Residential homes, home helps, day centres for elderly

10

General help for people with disabilities

9

Occupational therapy

7

Help for children and families

6

Help for people with mental health problems

5

Respite care

4

Counselling/advice for people with drug/alcohol problems

4

Help for people with learning disabilities

4

Adoption and fostering

3

Help for families with disabled children

2

Help for an offender

2

Help to access the children's hearing system

1

Don't know/can't remember

2

Not had contact with any of these

54

Source: MORI

Overall Satisfaction With Social Work Services

A clear majority (80%) of users were satisfied with the service they had received, with 38% saying they were very satisfied. Meanwhile, one in six (15%) were dissatisfied (figure 7.1 below).

Figure 7.1: Satisfaction with services
Fig7-1

Looking at sub group variation, users in the least deprived areas of the country were more likely to be satisfied with the service than those in the most deprived areas (85% versus 75% respectively). Satisfaction was also higher among those who held a positive view of social workers than among those whose views were negative (88% versus 63% respectively).

Ratings of Different Aspects of Service

Users were also asked about their level of satisfaction with specific aspects of the service they received. Again the findings were very positive overall. Thus, eight in ten said that the service took account of their general situation (80%) and did what they said they would do (76%). Meanwhile, around seven in ten felt the service was quick to respond to their needs (70%), and that they had a say in what happened (66%). Around six in ten felt that staff took time getting to know what they wanted (63%). The result for response times is particularly encouraging as the Review Group interim report highlights a concern among users and carers that people often have to wait too long to get appropriate support (Scottish Executive, 2005).

Figure 7.2: Satisfaction with aspects of the service
Fig7-2

On each of these measures, perceptions were more positive among older respondents than among younger groups.

In the focus groups, there were several people who had used social work services and who were willing to speak in some detail about their experiences. Consistent with the quantitative findings many of their comments were very positive indeed:

Twelve years I had social services, my husband was ill. I couldn't fault them one little bit.
(Female, C2DE, 65+, Dundee)

My direct experience is in dealing with elderly parents who sadly are both now dead but during the last ten years of my parent's lives their family were all quite far away from where my mother and father were and there were a number of occasions where situations arose that had to do with them needing support in one way or another. The people who came to help her, they just couldn't have done any more for her … Those last ten years of their lives were most certainly helped by doctors and nurses and various other people who were involved, but the social work people were very helpful.
(Female, ABC1, 45-64, Aviemore)

I did use the social work services a long time ago. It was during the earlier days when I first arrived here. My daughter was born not long after I arrived in the UK. People were really good to us. They would try their best to help when they saw you might be having a problem. They would try to find out what kind of help you might be needing, perhaps like claiming benefits.
(Chinese)

Other comments were more critical, however and pointed to perceived weaknesses in the way services are delivered. For example some of the C2DE participants suggested that at times social workers neglect to provide support when it is most needed, yet at other times interfere unnecessarily. A few people suggested that this may be because social workers tend to be 'overstretched'.

They come at the wrong time when there's nothing wrong
(Male, C2DE, 25-44, Inverness)

I think social workers, when they don't need to get involved, they get involved at times, but when they do need to get involved it's usually missed.
(Female Asian, Glasgow)

I tried a few times and couldn't get any help when I was ill. When I was ill, I had been in hospital and I suffer severe depression, I'm on anti depressants, I'm on everything. I don't know what I was but I never got the help.
(Female, 45-64, C2DE, Stirling)

There was also a perception, again mainly among C2DEs, that social work departments assign too much priority to helping 'problem' families or individuals, and people living in poorer areas, thereby denying other people much needed support. Discussing this issue, a few people expressed a view that there are too many people who 'play the system' in order to obtain services and support that they neither need nor deserve. Social work departments, it was felt, do not do enough to discourage this type of behaviour and ensure that services are allocated more fairly.

But sometimes I think because of the area that you come from, they seem to think if you come from the Rapploch 'oh you're going to need it all'. I live in Bridge of Allan, 'oh you don't need it'.
(Female, 45-64, C2DE, Stirling)

But then you also get it where you've got the lot that know how to play the system, that know 'right I've got a social worker, my bairns will be looked after, they'll get a day at the swimming pool. They'll get a day at the pictures'.
(Female, 45-64, C2DE, Stirling)

Other criticisms focused less on difficulties experienced in obtaining services, and more on issues relating to case management. Significantly, many of the comments reinforced evidence gathered by the Review Group to date. Thus a few participants complained about high staff churn, suggesting that this resulted in them repeatedly having to describe their problems to different social workers. Others cited occasions on which they felt their social worker had failed to explain things to them - for example, procedural issues - or keeping them fully informed about developments in their case.

They seem to keep moving on. You get a social worker for a wee while and then move onto another one and another one.
(Male, C2DE, 45-64, Stirling)

What they do is they take one social worker out and put another one in. Then you have to tell them the whole story again and explain everything
(Female, C2DE, 25-44, Inverness)

There's a lot of things I don't understand when I go to meetings … One of them turned round to me one day and turns round 'you've no say in the matter'. I says 'what do you mean I've no say in the matter?'
(Male, C2DE, 45-64, Stirling)

They keep you too much in the dark.
(Female, C2DE, 25-44, Inverness)

Asian and Chinese participants tended to suggest that social work services are neither sufficiently well attuned, nor responsive, to the 'special' needs of their respective communities. In particular, they pointed out that there are not enough bilingual social workers to deal with non-English speaking people, most of whom are older or new to the country and therefore perhaps most in need of help. While Chinese participants suggested that more use might be made of interpreters in social work, the Asian group felt that this was not a viable solution, as clients may know the interpreter and be unwilling to share person information with him/her.

How can they help us if they can't communicate with us?
(Chinese)

Those people who can't speak English … and the Elderly, they really need Social Work's help … like myself for instance!
(Chinese)

It's quite interesting because my gran's sister just came out of hospital after a triple heart by-pass and she asked for home help and support and they can't give her somebody who's Asian. She doesn't speak English. Somebody will come and chap on the door but she can't speak to them.
(Female Asian, Glasgow)

I think the language is a big barrier, a huge barrier. When they get interpreters, it's the same circle that go round and round and they know them in some kind of family way and they don't want to tell them the full story. I think that's a huge problem in Glasgow just now.
(Female Asian, Glasgow)

Quite apart from discussing language difficulties, the Asian and Chinese groups felt that social workers generally lack understanding of their respective cultures, and that this has implications for the standard of care or support that they are able to provide. Similar views emerge in MORI's research among BME residents in Glasgow ( MORI Scotland, 2005), referred to above.

I don't think for starters there's enough people in social work that are Asian and understands the culture. There's lots of things people do like pray five, six times a day, stuff like that. The home help were saying 'why don't you just not bother with it'? Something like that is really, really important so I don't think they understand the culture, the religion, that goes behind it. I think that's a big issue.
(Female Asian, Glasgow)