A press release summarising the performance and experience of delivering social work services across Children’s and Adult Services during the second year of the COVID pandemic 2021-22.
On 25 October, Judith Tait presented the East Lothian Council Chief Social Work Officer Annual Report 2021-22 to elected members noting the performance and experience of delivering social work services across Children’s and Adult Services during the second year of the COVID pandemic between April 2021 – March 22.
Despite operating under significant pressures and challenges, the report highlights numerous achievements accomplished over the last year, as well offering praise and recognition of the commitment and resilience of the social work workforce, to improve the lives of people who use services, vulnerable children young people and adults, and protecting the public.
Judith Tait comments, “I am proud to have the opportunity to share some of the many achievements from 2021-22 that are firmly aimed at improving the safety, the experiences and outcomes of those who are being supported or cared for by social work services. This is testament to the commitment and resilience of the social work workforce and the support of managers and I thank them for this”.
Throughout each of the sections of the report: Children’s Services, Adult Services, Justice Social Work, Resources and Workforce, the Chief Social Work Officer references the range of challenges affecting social work services, and the potential risks that theses present to professional and specialist areas. The most prevalent being the need for a resilient, well-supported and resourced and connected social work workforce in order to deliver effective and efficient and importantly safe practice.
In the summary Judith Tait stresses the need for adequate resources to accompany the plethora of new policy and legislative “asks” being introducing commenting; “reducing demand and vulnerability by early intervention, up-stream investment, maximising community and universal assets and determined strategic prioritisation is at the heart of solutions across all domains of social work.”
The report concludes by making reference to the National Care Service, with Ms Tait commenting on the opportunities this may bring, as well as the risks. “Whatever the final shape this settles into, we must ensure that the commitment to protecting the services and the staff working in the services that protect our most vulnerable citizens don’t become a casualty of the political, structural and financial debates that lie ahead.”
Adding her comments following presentation of the report, East Lothian Health and Social Care Partnership’s Chief Officer Fiona Wilson, adds; “The provision of social work services cannot to be diminished. Many people go through life without requiring the support of social services, until the day they do. The day-to-day professionalism, responsibility, governance and scrutiny that surrounding the sphere of social worker is too readily overlooked or not fully understood.”
“Supporting the future of Social Work is an absolute priority. The cost of living crisis, recovering from a pandemic, recruitment shortages and an increasing ageing population means that we must have a united focus and sufficient resource to improve the experiences and outcomes of those who are being supported or cared for by social work services.”
“I am incredibly appreciative of the continued and tireless efforts of East Lothian’s combined social work teams, and all of our partner agencies that support our services. The achievements documented in this annual report are a true testament to the tireless efforts, dedication and commitment of the social work teams, especially in the most challenging of circumstances.”
Download the full report here: Item 06 Chief Social Work Officer's Annual Report 2021/22
Key Features of the Report
The report gives specific reference to the whole-service redesign of children’s services, as a key work stream of the Council’s Transforming Services for Children Programme. Launched in early 2022, the service was re-shaped to strengthen the quality and experience of children and young people at the entry and exit points from the service. Teams were reconfigured to facilitate outcome-focused work through statutory interventions to help children achieve a permanent destination in a timely manner.
The service redesign has further helped to ensure professional social work practice is of the highest standard and is focused on helping to deliver ‘the Promise’. The team have renewed its commitment and investment to the Signs of Safety practice model, and as such staff strive to build effective relationships and use a strength-based, family first approach to keep children living safely within their own families wherever possible.
Within the context of strengthening the duty arrangements, the report highlighted that referrals to children’s services continued to rise – with a 6% increase comparative to 2020-21. This was driven in part by the impact of COVID on children and young people and family functioning and will increasingly be further impacted by the cost of living crisis.
In contrast, however there was a reduction in the number of children who needed to become looked after, (at home and away from home from 231 (rate of 10.8 per 1,000) to 216 (rate of 10.1 per 1,000). Both these rates are below the national average of 14.0 per 1,000.
The impact of the pandemic on families with children who have complex needs has been particularly acute. Those who were coping with low levels of support previously are now seeking more help.
However, as the report highlights, the increases only reinforce the importance of a relentless focus by social work teams on ‘Getting It Right For Every Child’ – providing effective early help and support for families within universal services to prevent difficulties escalating to the stage where targeted interventions are needed.
Similar to Children’s Services, Adult Services conducted its own restructure during 2021-22 with rehabilitation services consolidated into their own team and care at home services moving to be managed by NHS partners to bring internal and external providers together and strengthen integration with the hospital discharge process.
The report highlights the success this change has made on improved screen processes at the point of referral, proactive allocation process, promoting intervention at the earliest opportunity and significant reductions in waiting times. As well as improving experiences and outcomes for service users, this has increased service efficiency avoiding more costly crisis intervention caused by lengthy wait times.
The creation of a Learning Disability Social Work Team was established in April 2021 in recognition of the specialist skills and support services required. This team lead the transition arrangements for older young people as they move between children’s to adult services. In addition, a Community transformation programme has been created to focus on developing community support for older adults, adults with disabilities and adults with mental health support needs. This team has already made excellent progress in developing a wide range of links with existing services, and is in the process of developing new services within the community, for example the Dementia Meeting Centre in Musselburgh.
As a result of the restructuring, the dedicated Mental Health Team also experienced increased capacity and enhanced oversight arrangements. The adults with incapacity (Guardianship Orders) waiting list was halved and by March 2022, with no service user was waiting more than six months for their application to be progressed. The response to Local Authority Guardianship Order applications also improved with 80% now being allocated within appropriate timescales.
The care at home teams faced extreme pressures, especially between May-Dec 2021, resulting in the need to reduce existing care packages and restricting the availability of new ones. However, a number of initiatives were developed by the social work team to support Care at Home within the community, and facility hospital discharge, allowing the situation to stabilise by Jan 2022, with providing just under 7,000 hours of Care at Home a week, from commissioned care providers.
Within Care Homes, managers continued to implement Public Health and Scottish Government guidance requiring greater emphasis on infection prevention and control during 2021-22. The continued rollout of the vaccination booster programme over 2021, meant East Lothian care homes have achieved a high degree of vaccination coverage, which has assisted greatly in reducing the impact of COVID on both staff and residents.
The additional resource provided by the Scottish Government, enabled local authorities to undertake an enhanced programme of reviews of care home residents whose plans had not been reviewed within the preceding 6 months. The overall findings of these reviews were positive, with families, residents and social workers communicating their satisfaction regarding the care provided.
Justice Social Work
The confirmation of additional funding to support COVID recovery activities promoted this has enabled significant change and development within the Justice Social Work Team, with a review of team roles, increased provision, and partnership working with VCEL.
During 2021-22 there was a specific emphasis on training and staff development and in June 2021 Justice Social Work finalised an evaluation timetable for 2021-23 to formalise quality assurance arrangements and provide senior management assurance of key activities that will be undertaken to identify areas of good practice and those that require improvement
Partnership working remains at the heart of almost all social work practice and creating and sustaining strong relationships across all and any structural boundaries will be essential – none more so in the world of public protection.