CHAPTER THREE AN OVERVIEW OF LAC POSTS IN SCOTLAND
This chapter presents an overview of organisational arrangements for LAC posts in Scotland. It draws primarily on data collected through the Information Sheets completed by 44 LACs, in most cases in January 2006. The Information Sheets obtained information about LACs, what they do and who they work with, budgets and resources and processes of monitoring and recording. The material collated was supplemented by data obtained through interviews with LACs in February and March 2006 11.
Number of LAC posts
Our findings show that, at the time of the survey, there were (or were about to be) 59 LACs in Scotland, occupying 43 full time and 16 part time posts. We have included in this sum three new part-time posts which were about to start. In addition, we have included the three LACs in the authority which did not take part in the survey and we have assumed that they have full time posts. Thus the questionnaire was completed by nearly 79% of the 56 LACs in post in Scotland at the time it was circulated.
Respondents were asked to report the number of LAC posts in their local authority. Table 3.1 includes the three posts about to be advertised or to which appointments had just been made, as well as the non-participating authority with three LACs. The figures relating to FTE posts have been derived by counting two part time posts as one full time equivalent. These figures indicate a total of 51 FTE posts, confirming the figures reported above. However, it should be noted that 'part-time' posts ranged from 7.5 to 25 hours a week. As the table shows, the majority of authorities with LAC have between one and two FTE posts, although there is no clear relationship between the size of each local authority and the number of LACs.
Table 3.1 FTELAC posts per authority
Number of authorities
Most of these posts had the job title 'local area co-coordinator'. One was called ' LAC Manager': this person managed three other LACs. One authority had appointed a LAC Development Manager: he too was responsible for supervising other LACs but, in addition, had a developmental role in relation to LAC. Finally, one authority employed four 'Community Care Officers/ LAC's and one 'Senior Community Care Officer/ LAC'. In effect, they were care managers for people with learning disabilities, 'community care officer' being the term used in that authority for care managers: there were no other community care officers for people with learning disabilities.
The vast majority of LACs are employed by local authorities. However, three authorities have contracted LAC out to voluntary organisations and in one area, LACs are jointly employed by the local authority and the NHS. In addition, one LAC is employed by a local FE college. She has a full time contract with the college and her job has two parts, as a LAC (funded through social work) and as manager of another project based in the college (funded through a variety of sources).
Among LACs employed by local authority social work departments, there were mixed views about the advantages and disadvantages of this. A few LACs who had originally thought this would be problematic had found the benefits outweighed the drawbacks. For example, it gave them more 'clout' or credibility in the eyes of other agencies and being part of 'the system' allowed easy access to useful information and networks. The majority of LACs believed they should not be based in social work premises (see below), but only two specifically said they would prefer not to be employed by the local authority, believing a voluntary sector base would be more appropriate. Arguments against being employed by social work included:
- perceived stigma by association
- some families have previous negative experiences of social work involvement
- advocating for families 'against' the social work department was difficult
- LACs became drawn into inappropriate activities and meetings
- a voluntary sector setting would enable them to remain closer to the Australian model of LAC.
A couple of other LACs employed by local authorities believed their posts should be part of a different department: one LAC employed in Adult Services wanted to move to Community Development while another, employed by Community Learning, wanted to move to Children's Services.
Most LACs employed in voluntary organisations believed this was advantageous, because they worked in strongly person-centred agencies in sympathy with the LAC ethos. The lack of bureaucracy enhanced the informality and accessibility of the role while in-house training was said to be of a very high standard. On the down side however, one LAC had the experience of advocating for a person 'against' her voluntary sector employer and identified a risk of becoming 'just another service' provided by that agency. She would have preferred to be employed by the local authority community leisure department.
In the area where LACs were jointly employed by a local authority and the NHS, this was said to work well, although health staff reportedly had a better understanding of the role than social work colleagues. This was attributed to a highly committed manager within the NHS Trust who had played a key role in setting up and promoting LAC within the organisation.
The Information Sheets included a question about LACs' professional qualifications and these included social work (6 diplomas and 4 at under-graduate level); nursing (9); social care (8); dietetics and nutrition (5); personnel management (4); health promotion (4); and pharmacology (3). These and other cited qualifications have been categorised along the lines of those used in published 2001 census results (e.g. GROS 2003) to allow comparison with other studies. A large majority have a first degree or equivalent or higher (82%) while 11% have qualifications up to N/SVQIII level. Seven per cent of respondents reported having no formal qualifications. During the interviews, several LACs raised the issue of whether or not there should be a recognised and/or required qualification for LAC, a debate explored later in the report.
Previous work experience
LACs' previous work experience has also been categorised in a way that allows comparison. The 'Standard Occupational Classification' ( SOC) has been used here (see Office for National Statistics, 2000). As may be expected, previous work experience is predominantly in social work/social care and health care, while several LACs had worked in community education and development posts. However, as a group, LACs had a vast and diverse range of previous experience, including business, administration, industry, engineering, the armed forces, tourism, service and retail industries, publishing and human resources.
Looking closer, at the post held immediately prior to taking up their LAC position, nearly a third (32%) were youth/community workers (see Table 3.2). All other respondents, with the exception of three, two of whom had just completed a Diploma in Social Work ( DipSW), had their previous post in the health, social work or social care sectors.
Table 3.2 Post held prior to LAC
youth and/or community worker
residential or day service manager
housing and welfare officer
residential care wardens/assistant
social services manager
health service manager
Previous relevant unpaid experience
Nearly two-thirds of respondents reported relevant unpaid experience. Almost half of these (or one third of all respondents) cited unspecified voluntary work while 14 percent had voluntary experience working with children with learning disabilities. Sixteen percent of respondents had experience of caring for a family member through illness or impairment.
Length of service
Table 3.3 Length of time in post
Time in post
Table 3.3 shows how long LACs had been in post when they completed the Information Sheet. Only a handful (7%) had held their jobs for more than four years. The numbers by year steadily increase with just over one third (34%) starting their post between two and three years earlier. Very few of these appointments were made other than through the usual national/regional recruitment procedures. Most posts (73%) were filled in that way while nine percent of LACs were recruited through internal advertisements, 11 percent through secondment or post merger and five percent were 'headhunted' or invited to apply.
A couple of respondents declined to answer a question in the Information Sheet about salaries. The data supplied by 42 respondents shows huge variation in the salaries paid to LACs across Scotland, although this range also included LACs who held managerial positions. The lowest paid was currently placed on SCP 21, receiving £16,436 pa; the highest paid, with managerial responsibilities, was on the PO4 scale with a range of £35,748 to £38,295. Among those that did respond, 52 percent had a salary in the range £20,000 to £25,000.
Table 3.4 Salary ranges
£15,000 to £19,999
£20,000 to £24,999
£25,000 to £29,999
£30,000 to £34,999
£35,000 to £39,999
Not surprisingly, given these findings, the topic of salaries was raised in most interviews. The least well paid LAC commented:
"The only thing that keeps me going is the needs and desires of the people out there and certainly not financially…When I found out how much the huge variation was, a week and a bit into my post, I just couldn't believe it."
Two other LACs reported having taken a drop in salary when starting their present post, due to their commitment to the LAC ethos. One had thought the post would be subject to incremental rises, but had been told it was frozen at its current level. In another authority, posts were currently being reviewed and likely to be downgraded, with the salary, again, being frozen for five years. This contrasts with experience in an authority where LACs were well paid:
"The salaries of the LACs are at a professional level. And Eddie Bartnik very strongly says it has to be a professional level that gives credibility because we are living in a world that sees people in that way. And it's a demanding job as well, and a responsible job and you need people with a lot of experience, and a lot of knowledge."
Many LACs made strong arguments for parity of pay scales at national level.
Funding for posts
The majority of funding for LAC posts came from the Learning Disability Change Fund 12, sometimes combined with monies from NHS or social work sources. According to data supplied on the 44 Information Sheets, 40 percent of LAC posts are funded by social work departments: however it was not always clear if this funding originated from the Change Fund.
In Western Australia, LACs have 'shop front' premises designed to be accessible and informal 'drop-ins'. Table 3.5 shows the various office bases of LACs in Scotland. Some had two bases. Although the majority were located in the communities where they worked, LACs in six authorities described their office as well off the beaten track or hard to access by public transport. In three other authorities, LACs were based outwith the areas they served.
Table 3.5 LACs' office bases
Social work office
Multi-disciplinary team office
Community learning office attached to arts centre
Self contained flat attached to older people's care home
LACs had a good deal to say about the appropriateness or otherwise of their office base or location. In ten authorities, LACs experienced serious difficulties associated with their office base, while a further nine reported a mixture of advantages and disadvantages. In making these comments, respondents frequently referred to LAC principles. One experienced LAC commented:
"Councils don't always recognise the need for a community-based office and that is much more in keeping with the principles of LAC than it would be if you were based in a social work office where somebody would go into social work and you see a receptionist and you sit in a room with strangers and then you go into an interview room, which isn't very conducive to building a positive relationship."
Problems experienced include having no drop-in facility, the perceived stigma of being associated with social work and/or a resource centre, feeling isolated from professional contact, lack of privacy, restricted wheelchair access and, in three authorities, the temporary nature of current arrangements with no clear alternative identified. Several LACs reported having investigated the possibility of other premises including a 'shop front' but this had fallen through, often due to cost. However, in one authority concerns about LACs' personal safety had militated against opening a 'drop-in' on a large housing estate.
Several LACs who acknowledged that a different base would be more in keeping with the LAC ethos nevertheless identified benefits from being located in social work or other statutory agency offices. It gave them contact with a range of colleagues and thus access to personal and professional support and helpful information and contacts. It meant that useful office equipment and sometimes clerical support were available. For some LACs, having a pleasant working environment went some way towards compensating for other difficulties. However, one respondent was of the opinion:
"I don't want to be comfortable, I want to have to go out in the cold and the rain, to go from one place to another and take my laptop and think where did I put that piece of paper, did I leave it in the other place. I am willing to do that because I think that is the essence of the role."
In only five authorities were LACs satisfied with their current base. Interestingly, two were in social work offices and one attached to a resource centre. Having contact with other staff was one attraction. The other two LACs had bases more in keeping with LAC principles - one was located in a community learning office attached to a small arts centre: she was about to move from an upstairs office into a large front room on the ground floor where people could drop in. The other authority is the only one to have a town centre shop front, a decision made after considering a number of different locations in the authority:
"Through time a lot of individuals relate to it, they think it's not got a stigma associated; they come in; they can drop in; they can see us."
An LAC in one authority had chosen to use part of her budget to rent an ordinary terraced house in the local town, as a part time community base. However, due to access problems, this was not ideal.
People LACs work with
Table 3.6 shows data from the Information Sheets about the different groups which LACs worked with. Respondents could tick more than one box and it was noted that individuals sometimes fitted more than one category.
Table 3.6 People LACs work with (by User Group)
No of authorities
Adults with learning disabilities
Children with learning disabilities
People with Autistic Spectrum Disorder
People with mental health issues
People with physical impairment
People who are socially isolated/have drug related problems
LACs from 19 authorities explicitly reported working with families although it is clear from the interviews that they all do. One mentioned 'the local community'.
Within these apparently broad categories, however, some LACs operated more specific criteria. For example, a couple of authorities required people to have an IQ of 70 or less (despite the contested, some would say discredited, nature of IQ testing (see Gould, 1981)). When asked how an individual's IQ was ascertained, one LAC replied:
"Obviously you are not going to give people an IQ test but certainly usually there is a psychologist or other people that have been involved…I suppose in some ways looking for people who have got more difficulties with linking into the community than perhaps … people who maybe just have a little bit of dyslexia or dyspraxia …that is not really my remit."
Twelve authorities offer a full 'cradle to grave' service. One LAC commented:
"It's the only way you can support people properly, efficiently and effectively…I would hate to say to somebody, no, you're 18, on you go, you're not with me any more…I love it when we get in with somebody younger because I've seen some adults, 19, 20, they're in such a mess because they have not had support through transition, you know, further education… if we'd seen them years before we could have helped them, the parents and them, plan out what support they need."
In some areas, LACs had a remit to work only with people of a certain age or life stage. A few worked with young people with learning disabilities during the transition to adulthood (in one case, aged 14-19, in another, from 10-24) and/or people aged 45 and over living with older parents. A focus in one authority was those inappropriately placed in a day centre. Some LACs did not work with certain people, such as those with full-time support packages, those with a care manager or people with a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. LACs working with adults might start at 16 or 18, and leave off at 60 or 65. Several LACs expressed frustration at what they saw as a narrow remit, giving examples of people who had contacted them, or been 'referred' to them, whom they had been unable to support. However, it was acknowledged that practicalities required some limits on the services that individual LACs could realistically provide.
Size of area and population covered
In the Information Sheets, LACs were asked:
- How many people living in the area fall into their target group
- How big is the geographic area covered (in approximate square miles)
- What is its population.
Not all the LACs were able to answer these questions and the data were not always consistent and thus comparable. Nevertheless it is clear from the responses received that, again, considerable variation exists among LACs on these points. The geographic area covered was said to range from 2 square miles at the least to 6613 at the most. Total populations within the area covered varied from 8000 at the lowest to a reported 345,000 at the highest. With regard to numbers of people in the target groups living in that area, estimates varied from 100 to 3500. However, these figures should be viewed with caution as some LACs indicated they were making an 'educated guess'.
In each of the four major Scottish cities, LACs have a remit to cover two specific geographical communities, in two cases sharing the workload across these areas, and in two cases having a different LAC cover each community. LACs commented on the diverse nature of the areas they covered in urban settings, but a similar comment was made by several LACs working in rural areas. Some LACs felt they were expected to cover far too large an area, especially those in rural authorities with widely dispersed populations, raising issue of transport, lack of local services and time spent travelling to visit families. Similar issues pertained in island authorities. Those with smaller patches generally considered these more manageable but found it difficult having to turn away people living in other parts of the authority who got in touch asking for support. In these circumstances, several LACs offered limited support, such as local information or sign-posting.
In only 11 authorities did LACs have access to a dedicated budget, with the funding coming from various sources including the Change Fund, social work department day services budget and Children's Services. Where LACs reported the level of monies available, the majority were at the lower end of the range £0 to £5000, although one had a budget of between £10,000 and £15,000. LACs in six authorities had experienced delay, reduction, withdrawal or non-appearance of budgets:
"That is something that is a bit of a bugbear for me because it was in my job description; it was even in the job advert in the paper, that I would have access to funding. And um...I know that's part of the ethos…being able to support people financially if necessary."
Of the 20 LACs who reported having access to a budget, just over a half (55%) thought it adequate for their needs. There was disparity between authorities regarding what the budget could be spent on. Thus, LACs in some areas could pay for an individual and/or family to have a short break or holiday; LACs in another area could spend money on equipment but not on holidays. Broadly speaking, budgets were used as follows:
- To enable service users to access resources
- To promote inclusion/independence
- One-off support for service users
- Volunteer expenses
- Resources/equipment for LACs
- Printing and publicity costs
- Hospitality costs
- Hiring rooms
- Office rent
- Subsistence/travel expenses
Many of those with no budget identified items they would have purchased if they could. Some were able to access resources within their agencies, or apply for funding from the same channels as social workers. One admitted it was a case of 'beg, borrow or steal.' One respondent with a budget argued for
"recognition that, for those of us that have got budgets, it can be cost effective being proactive, thus reducing costs in the future. Sometimes we have felt a lack of vision by employers of the value of the role and in terms of empowering families. And that's again about spending time and money now at the early stages may offset larger pay outs in the future."
Data collection and recording
Respondents were asked if they collected data relating to their work and in what format. All bar four respondents collected data of some form with two of the four just about to start doing so. Of those who did gather data, most kept records of individual contacts (82%), including 'referral' details (64%), services and supports already involved (64%) and demographic characteristics (62%).
When first appointed, about two thirds of LACs had protected time (varying from one to nine months) to get to know their local communities, talk to relevant individuals and agencies and plan their activities. During this time, they were not expected to work with individuals or families. The most common elements of induction identified were
- attending the SCLD Action Learning Sets
- networking within the authority
- networking with local agencies and groups
- giving presentations, distributing leaflets and posters
- doing a team PATH13/community map
- visiting established LACs elsewhere
- meetings with managers and/or steering groups
The benefits of a thorough induction were emphasised:
"It was definitely beneficial. It was beneficial for us to get to grips with what LAC…because it is such a new concept, to get to grips with what LAC is and what it was going to be."
"I believe induction is vitally important in any job, it's really crucial: [ LAC]'s a new role."
Nevertheless, a few LACs still felt some uncertainty about their role after induction, because of the lack of precedent and the needs-led - and thus unpredictable - nature of the demands. Thirty percent of LACs reported having little or no induction, while one LAC had to argue the case for an induction period because her authority wanted her to start working with families 'right away'. Similarly, several of those who had no induction were presented with an existing or identified group of individuals to work with. This occurred where LACs were expected to carry out care management tasks or, in one case, to spend the first few months working part-time within another area of the service.
Training and Action Learning Sets
Nearly 23% of the LACs who completed the Information Sheets attended the week long residential course, mentioned in Chapter One, run by SHS and SCLD, and led by Eddie Bartnik. With one exception, respondents were extremely positive about this experience. Some had invited Mr Bartnik to their own authority, again with encouraging results. Most respondents reported other training they had received as a LAC, for example, 41% mentioned Person Centred Planning, 30% training relating to people with autism/Aspergers and 23% on direct payments/welfare benefits. Smaller numbers had received training in community building, physical/mental health issues, child protection/vulnerable adults, leadership and presentation skills, local authority procedures and relevant legislation.
Eighty-two per cent had attended the Action Learning Sets ( ALS) run by SCLD (see pages 10-11). Interview respondents were invited to comment on the usefulness of this training. Overall, responses were positive with LACs from 15 authorities expressing favourable views, and a further five identifying positive features along with some reservations. One experienced LAC commented:
"They are very useful because they keep us to the principles; we are talking with like-minded people and they help us in terms of reflection but also when, you know, if things are getting really difficult and we really just can't find a way, a solution…I think by going there and sharing that, you always come away back feeling a bit more enthused and a bit more inspired."
Other phrases used to describe the Action Learning Sets included 'absolutely brilliant', 'a lifeline', 'fabulous', 'extremely beneficial' and 'generally useful'. Meeting other LACs and the mutual support involved was highly valued by nearly all respondents, especially those who were the only LAC in their authority and/or where there was a lack of acceptance or understanding of the role locally. Indeed, a couple of LACs added that without the ALS they may not have stayed in post. The point made above about the value of returning to 'basic principles' was echoed by other LACs. Several highlighted the importance of having time to reflect on their practice, to learn from what others were doing or, more directly, be supported in thinking through a current issue of their own. Some identified particular sessions, trainers or invited speakers they had found useful.
At the same time, there were aspects of the ALS which some people had found less helpful. Sometimes this was about content, which a few found boring, unrealistic or of little relevance to their work. Some of it was about format, with some people feeling the action learning was too formal or not a useful way to learn, for example, because they were asked to reflect on an issue raised at the previous set, three months earlier, which may now have changed or been resolved; and some of it was about delivery style, which was said to vary between group facilitators. A couple of people commented on the importance of ensuring there was sufficient time to allow each participant to raise and discuss an issue.
LACs from four authorities were very critical of the ALS which they did not see as 'cutting edge'. Criticism was made of attitudes shown and practice described by some other LACs at the training sessions - for example, a perceived lack of respect for people with learning disabilities - along with the implication that this went unchallenged by those running the ALS. It was argued that the best training was that delivered by experienced LACs and parents. Another LAC, who expressed general satisfaction with the ALS, acknowledged there was 'a dissent within LACs' about the value of the training and some feeling that it could be better delivered by LACs themselves. Drawing on her experience in another field of practice, however, she pointed out that preparing and delivering training was time-consuming and could prove a 'huge distraction from the job'.
There was majority consensus among LACs on three points. First, the ALS had improved over time, including becoming more responsive to feedback and suggestions from LACs. Secondly, there was a need to offer training at different levels: some LACs had been in post for a number of years and now needed to work at a more advanced level. The third point concerned cost. At £600 per year, many authorities had either withdrawn or were considering withdrawing the funding for LACs to attend 14. While a few LACs did not consider the ALS value for money, others were very concerned about losing the contact:
"I just can't imagine not going"
"I am not relishing the prospect of not attending the action learning sets."
Some LACs had suggested that the ALS be held in different parts of Scotland 15, an arrangement described by one respondent as 'rotational opportunity', to spread travel and accommodation costs more evenly. Some LACs had started meeting in informal regional groups instead of, or in some cases as well as, attending the ALS.
Further training needs
LACs were asked to identify any further training needs. As Table 3.7 shows, 18 different topics were mentioned, but 12 by only one person. The area most often identified was community capacity building. While most topics related to wider knowledge or skills required to fulfil the LAC role, a couple imply uncertainty about aspects of the role itself.
Table 3.7 Further training needs identified by LACs
Desired Training Topic
Community capacity building
How to help people effect change
Person centred work
Advanced person centred planning
Working with volunteers
Clarifying LAC role
Handling conflict of being employed as LAC by social work department
By March 2006, there were 59 LACs in post, or about to take up work, occupying 43 full-time and 16 part-time posts. The lowest current coverage, among the 25 authorities that reported having implemented LAC, was one 0.20 FTE post, the highest was five FTE posts, but the majority of authorities which had implemented LAC had established between one and two FTE posts. Most LACs were employed by local authorities but three authorities had commissioned voluntary agencies to provide LAC, one was employed by an FE college and in another case, an NHS Trust and local authority were joint employers. Those employed by local authority social work departments voiced a number of reservations about this but there were some advantages as well. While LACs in the voluntary sector were generally more content, not all were immune from role conflict. Over half the LACs were physically based in social work teams or resource centres and, again, most had concerns about their location. Only one authority has the 'shop front' characteristic of LAC in Australia.
Overall, LACs were well qualified, although 7% had no formal qualifications. Their previous work experience was predominantly within the social and health care sectors, although overall they had a wide and diverse range of experience. Our findings show huge variation in the salaries paid to LACs, ranging from £16,426 to £38,295 (although this range did include LACs in managerial positions). Nevertheless this constituted an issue which caused strong feelings among most.
All the authorities with LAC serve adults with learning disabilities and most also work with children with learning disabilities. However, some can only work with people of a certain age or have to exclude certain groups. A few LACs work with people with other conditions, notably physical impairment and/or mental health issues. Only 12 authorities work with people from 'cradle to grave'. There is considerable variation in the size of area LACs have to cover and in the total and target populations within those areas. Some reported having too large an area to cover while those working in smaller communities sometimes had to turn away requests for support from further afield.
In only 11 authorities do LACs have access to dedicated budgets, nearly all amounting to less than £5000. There were reports of delays, reductions and withdrawal of budgets - again, a source of considerable frustration for some.
About two thirds of the LACs had been given protected time for community mapping and/or networking when first in post. However, 30% had little or no induction. As a group, the LACs had received a good deal of training on diverse topics. There was near unanimous enthusiasm for the national training courses, particularly the sessions which featured Eddie Bartnik, and majority approval of the Action Learning Sets. However, a few voiced criticism of the latter. The topic most often identified on which LACs wanted further training was community capacity building.
In conclusion, there was wide variation in almost every aspect of the organisational arrangements for LAC in Scotland, and many LACs found this problematic in terms of having a consistent and unified approach throughout Scotland. Respondents acknowledged the need for flexibility and diversity in fitting the LAC ethos and principles to local areas but expressed concerns about possible moves away from core LAC principles in order to fit with existing structures based on traditional service delivery.