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
Chapter 1: Messages from the 21st Century Social Work Review

100 page PDF

2.6 MB

Chapter 1: Messages from the 21st Century Social Work Review

"Users and carers are citizens. We expect to be respected as whole people and supported to achieve our aspirations. What needs to happen is that everyone in society recognises us as their neighbours with every right to be included. A good standard of housing and income matters to us, the same as everyone else."
Users and Carers Panel

Doing more of the same won't work. Increasing demand, greater complexity and rising expectations mean that the current situation is not sustainable.

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

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

These are the three over-riding conclusions we have reached at the end of our intensive deliberations of the past year. They are based on our consultations with many hundreds of people throughout Scotland, across all sectors of the social service workforce, with other professionals, with people who use social work services and their carers and on our analysis of existing and commissioned research evidence.

Doing more of the same won't work

The demand for social work services is increasing and changing as people's needs are becoming more complex and challenging. The expectations of citizens of the 21st century are for more accessible, responsive public services of the highest quality. The result is that we expect more and more of a fixed resource, placing ever increasing pressure on social work services to deliver. Professional roles too often become focused on managing access to existing services rather than on helping people find solutions to their problems. In this way, people become passive recipients of services rather than active participants in their care. We have concluded that this is an unsustainable direction for social work services and that simply pouring ever more public resources into a service based on welfare models rather than the promotion of individual wellbeing will not, in itself, achieve a sustainable future.

Social work doesn't have all of the answers

Social work services alone cannot sort out all of the problems facing society now and in the future. Tomorrow's solutions will need to involve professionals, services and agencies from across the public, private and voluntary sectors in a concerted and joined-up effort. They will need to build new capacity in individuals, families and communities to meet their own needs, drawing on strengths, hopes and aspirations. They will also require a long-term commitment across government and the public sector to prevent the problems facing individuals, families and communities today, before they damage people's life chances irreparably. This approach must make the best use of those universal services, such as health, early years education and police, which touch everyone's lives, and those of social work services which are targeted to provide support in very specific circumstances.

Social workers' skills are highly valued and increasingly relevant

The International Federation of Social Work describes the mission of social work as being to "enable all people to develop their full potential, enrich their lives and prevent dysfunction". While we believe this is still valid to society today, we have found that in reality:

  • culture of blame has developed in response to systemic failures to protect individuals and the wider community, which is forcing social workers into monitoring behaviour rather than actually helping people to make changes;
  • heavy and inequitable caseloads often prevent social workers from tackling the complexities that lies behind the immediate need;
  • demands exceed resources, resulting in social workers acting as gatekeepers, processing people through systems rather than working directly with individuals and families; and
  • the constant pressure to deal with crises leaves little time for early intervention or for increasing the capacity of individuals, families and communities to find their own solutions.
  • It is in this context that the 21st Century Social Work Review was commissioned to examine how social work services can adapt to meet present and future needs.

A new direction for social work services

The recommendations we set out in this report represent a new direction for social work services in Scotland which reinvigorates social work's core values of:

  • respecting the right to self determination;
  • promoting participation;
  • taking a whole-person approach;
  • understanding each individual in the context of family and community; and
  • identifying and building on strengths.

They will set social work on a sustainable course, building the capacity of services and the workforce and providing a firm foundation for meeting the current and future needs of Scottish society. Our conclusions fall into three main themes, which provide a structure for the report:

Building capacity to deliver personalised services

The first five recommendations aim to develop services which people find easy to use and which are better equipped to help them find their own solutions.

They will make sure that social work services:

1. are designed and delivered around the needs of people who use services, their carers and communities;
2. build individual, family and community capacity to meet their own needs;
3. play a full and active part in a public sector wide approach to prevention and earlier intervention;
4. become an integral part of a whole public-sector approach to supporting vulnerable people and promoting social well-being; and
5. recognise and effectively manage the mixed economy of care in the delivery of services.

Building the capacity of the workforce

The next four recommendations aim to develop and deploy the social service workforce in ways that make the most effective use of the knowledge, skills and values of social work.

They will make sure that:

6. services develop a new organisational approach to managing risk, which ensures the delivery of safe, effective and innovative practice;
7. social workers are enabled and supported to practise accountably and exercise their professional autonomy;
8. employers develop a learning culture that commits all individuals and organisations to lifelong learning and development; and
9. services are delivered by effective teams designed to include the appropriate mix of skills and expertise and operating with delegated authority and responsibilities.

Building capacity for sustainable change

The final four recommendations aim to ensure the delivery of real and sustained change in the way services are designed and delivered.

They will make sure that social work services:

10. develop enabling leadership and effective management at all levels and across the system;
11. are monitored and evaluated on the delivery of improved outcomes for people who use services, their carers and communities; and
12. develop the capacity and capability for transformational change by focusing on re-designing services and organisational development.

And finally, we conclude that:

13. the Scottish Executive should consolidate in legislation the new direction of social work services in Scotland.

We have not recommended organisational change. Such decisions need to be taken locally, in order to respond effectively to local need. Our recommendations will however require transformational change in the way services are designed and delivered. They will require both services and roles to change in order to meet people's needs better and make best use of the skills of the whole workforce. A multi-agency approach, driven by committed and imaginative leadership across the public, voluntary and private sectors will be needed to fully implement the recommendations. We know that this will not happen overnight. However during the course of the review process we have found a strong consensus behind the need for change. We encourage the Scottish Executive and service providers to respond quickly and constructively to this report by taking early, decisive action and putting in place the processes required to deliver lasting change.