Publication - Independent report

Changing Lives: Report of the 21st Century Social Work Review

Published: 7 Feb 2006

Report of the recommendations made by the 21st Century Social Work Review Group for the future of social services in Scotland.

100 page PDF

2.6 MB

100 page PDF

2.6 MB

Changing Lives: Report of the 21st Century Social Work Review
Executive Summary

100 page PDF

2.6 MB

Executive Summary

"Services should meet the needs of people. People shouldn't have to fit services. Social workers should be allowed the time to get to know their clients really well, so that they really understand the different needs of each individual."
Users and Carers Panel

Extensive consultation across Scotland and consideration of a wide range of evidence draws us to three over-riding conclusions:

Doing more of the same won't work. Increasing demand, greater complexity and rising expectations mean that the current situation is not sustainable:
Tomorrow's solutions will need to engage people as active participants, delivering accessible, responsive services of the highest quality and promoting wellbeing.

Social work services don't have all of the answers. They need to work closely with other universal providers in all sectors to find new ways to design and deliver services across the public sector:
Tomorrow's solutions will involve professionals, services and agencies from across the public, private and voluntary sectors in a concerted and joined-up effort, building new capacity in individuals, families and communities and focusing on preventing problems before they damage people's life chances irreparably.

Social workers' skills are highly valued and increasingly relevant to the changing needs of society. Yet we are far from making the best use of these skills:
Tomorrow's solutions will need to make the best use of skills across the public sector workforce, refocusing on the core values of social work. Social workers will need to make effective use of therapeutic relationships and find new ways to manage risk.


We found countless examples of services transforming people's lives and protecting them and their communities. These provide many strengths to build upon. However, we should not be complacent about the scale of the challenge facing social work. We found a profession and services under great pressure, lacking in confidence and not delivering to their full potential, resulting in a growing mismatch between the values of social work and the experience of people who use and work in services. In chapter 2 we summarise our findings and aspirations.


We all aspire to live in a society that is healthy, prosperous, tolerant, safe, fair and inclusive. Social work services have a vital contribution to make to that. Services are provided in a context of changing need and opportunities. Demographic, social and political trends pose challenges and opportunities that will influence the future design and delivery of services. In chapter 3 we summarise some of these trends and their implications for social work services. Together, these trends pose challenges of growing need, demand and expectations, as well as new opportunities offered by increasing integration and new technologies.

The role of the social worker

Social workers have a distinctive set of knowledge, skills and values that need to be better used in supporting our most vulnerable people. Chapter 4 sets out a tiered approach to practice that recognises those things only a social worker can do, those they are best equipped to do and those to which they should contribute.

Building capacity to deliver personalised services

Personalisation is driving the shape of all public services, with a growing public expectation that services will meet their needs, helping them achieve personal goals and aspirations. This may pose a particular challenge for social work, given the need also to manage growing demand and complexity as well as the need to protect the public by taking measures to control some people's liberty. To be effective in meeting that challenge, social work services will need to engage individuals, families and communities and to work in new ways with other parts of the public sector, focusing increasingly on prevention. Chapter 5 sets out five recommendations that will build our capacity to design and deliver personalised social work services through building individual, family and community capacity; refocusing on prevention and earlier intervention; creating whole system response to problems; and making effective use of the mixed economy of care.

Building the capacity of the workforce

We are not making the best use of social work skills. Developing personalised services revitalises and refocuses services on the core values of social work. Achieving that will mean making full and effective use of the whole workforce, creating new roles, developing confidence and trust and shifting the balance of power and control. Chapter 6 sets out four recommendations that will develop social workers as accountable, autonomous professionals; create new governance arrangements to support devolved responsibility; place a new emphasis on individual and organisational learning; and change the skill mix of social work teams, introducing a new paraprofessional role.

Building capacity for sustainable change

The major changes set out in our report will require a real and lasting commitment to transform services at all levels and in all parts of the system. They will involve major cultural change across the public, voluntary and private sectors and new solutions to changing needs. Chapter 7 sets out our final four recommendations which seek to embed these changes in new ways of working. The recommendations will develop enabling leadership and effective management at all levels, including a new focus on citizen leadership which will enable people who use services to have real influence; a new focus across the sector on performance improvement and the delivery of agreed outcomes; a structured approach to re-designing services and delivering change; and new legislation to provide a foundation for future practice.