The 21st Century Review and Me

The 21st Century Review and me

Ruth Stark, Professional Officer for BASW Scotland  discusses how the 21st Century Social Work Review will impact on practitioners…

Each registered social worker will receive a copy of Changing Lives, the report of the C21 Social Work Review and other copies will circulate around the offices of all sectors of social services. If you do not see a copy then request one from your department or access it through . It was published on 7 February and there are three documents. The first is the full report, the second a slim executive summary and the third is the Scottish Executive Response.

Once you have read the documents you will find much that you recognise about where you work and what you are currently trying to do in providing good quality services to people in the community. You will recognise the hindrances to performing that work to the best of your ability and hopefully be inspired to change what is not necessary and does not work. The challenge of the Review is as much about cultural and attitudinal change as it is about poor resources and keeping experienced staff at the front line. So here are some of the issues from the practitioner’s perspective.

Career Grades

How often have you heard people say, “if only I was paid as much to remain on the frontline I would not have moved to be a manager” or “I never intended being a manager I really only wanted to do social work”? If the review is to be successful then this has to be one of the first priorities. But it is not just about pay scales, as the government have learnt to their cost with McCrone for Teachers, the real issues are about people being valued and respected and this will be shown through staff care policies. The first employer who seriously embeds a sabbatical programme into their career structure will do a great deal to refresh and invigorate experienced but tired staff.

Autonomy and accountability

Now that we have invigorated and revived experienced staff at the front line the recommendation of the review is that autonomy and accountability of those staff is increased. This is probably the most difficult task of the whole review. Social Work in the UK has developed within a blame culture and social workers are working within a risk averse management culture that fails to recognise that social work assessments and interventions are about balancing need and risk, often struggling with balancing competing human rights. {mospagebreak}

Preventative v crisis driven work

Many social workers will welcome the recommendations to shift the working pattern from crisis driven work to preventative work. Building Community Capacity to help support the vulnerable in our society is particularly welcome as we put in practice the recommendations of the Child Protection Audit It’s everyone’s job to make sure I’m alright. I look forward to the next report into a child or adult death that recognises that social workers also have to respect Article 8 of ECHR and the right to privacy in family life – what happens behind closed doors – and that unless we are living with families and individuals 24/7 we will not be able to prevent some of the catastrophic deaths in our communities.
Social Workers have always sought to give of their best, to make decisions in difficult circumstances but they need the support of managers and their communities in carrying out this difficult work on their behalf. Our guidance comes from our Code of Ethics – they deserve wider circulation to understand the difficult multi-dimensional matrix of decision making.


So far this article has been about social workers but the reference to an increasing use of paraprofessionals to release social workers time currently has little substance beyond this statement. In other northern European countries alongside the development of Social Workers to a graduate or post graduate qualification there has also been the development of social pedagogy and social educators, mainly also to a graduate level education or SVQ level 4. Their tasks are seen as developing community capacity and care. To achieve this level of competence within the Scottish social service workforce would cost a great deal in training people but would lead to better quality services.

The concern expressed by our colleagues in Northern Europe is that where they have shortages of Social Workers, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland people without the necessary training and expertise are assessing people who may be at risk or need and are missing important clues to avert harm to themselves or other people. We must make sure that in developing the paraprofessional that we do not abuse them by expecting them to take the responsibility of the trained professional.

Access to services

Redesigning services to make them more accessible is a laudable aim. If you enter a local authority building that has housing services on one side and social work on a different side your neighbours may see that you are either “in trouble” or “seeking help” – do I want my neighbours to know this? Will it stigmatise me when I am in trying to get on with my daily life. If I call into the local café, take my children to a community play park or fun centre can I access a service that is personal and friendly and where a trained pedagogue will care for my children whilst I am talking to the social worker? They manage this in Sweden so why not here?{mospagebreak}

Practitioner Forum

Every area is being asked to develop a practitioner forum. When the Implementation Team visits your area you need to let them know – who should it involve, hoe should people be selected and who sets the agenda and what then happens to those discussions? This could be key in supporting frontline staff – or it could be a management panacea – it will be the responsibility of staff to see how this is implemented.

National Social Work Forum

This seems to be the apex of the social work services strategy and will involve key stakeholders in the workforce. It will take the lead in planning for the future. It will need to be imaginative, creative and able to argue for resources to meet the needs of communities in building up social inclusion and social cohesion.

Ministerial Group

There is no single Minister responsible for Social Work, as with Health or Education or Transport – but perhaps that is to our advantage as the catalyst to social inclusion and social cohesion that our services bring to society. There will be a Ministerial Group that will meet regularly and their challenge will be to learn to think like social workers in a multi-dimensional framework, doing their social analysis, consulting with those who know how to achieve change and reflecting on their contribution. They will need to change from knee-jerk reactions to supporting the planning and implementation of C21 Social Work


Changing Lives demands change from all levels of social work services but if we can work together then we have the potential to achieve creative and dynamic services with people offering the best quality of intervention and care in Europe.