Report of the 21st Century Social Work Review Briefing No. 136

Changing LivesMarch 2006: In the Summer of 2004, the Scottish Parliament commissioned the 21st Century Social Work Review, following a debate in the Scottish Parliament. The Review was set up against a background of negative publicity against social work staff following several high profile abuse cases.

Despite this, the Review was welcomed by UNISON who believed it would examine the current pressures facing social services staff in Scotland, including recruitment and retention, job status and pay structures.

The Review

The review was set up under the Chairmanship of William Roe and included membership from Local Authorities, Social Work Departments, Charities, SSSC, etc. The main aim of the Review Group was to “take a fundamental look at all aspects of social work in order to strengthen its contribution to the delivery of integrated services.”

It was recognised that Scotland had changed since the 1968 Social Work Act, with an increasingly elderly population, greater numbers of children in need, a more fractured society medical, etc. have meant that social work services also needed to change.

Under the main Review Group, there were 5 sub groups:

  • The Role of the Social Worker which included Trade Unions, including UNISON
  • The Stakeholder Sub Group
  • Performance Improvement
  • Leadership and Management
  • Users and Carers

The groups carried out more than a year of intensive work across the whole of Scotland talking to professionals delivering social work services, those who use the services, academics and managers and the general public.

The Report

The Report, entitled Changing Lives, was launched on 8 February 2006 by members of the Users and Carers Group, assisted by Willie Roe, Chairman and Peter Peacock, MSP, Minister for Education and Young People. The report drew three fundamental conclusions:
  • 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 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 of these skill

The Report looks at the changing context for Social Work Services and in particular, defines the Role of the Social Worker, an issue UNISON had real concerns about

The report emphasises that a new direction for social work services must be implemented and makes several recommendations on how this can be achieved:
    • Building Capacity to deliver personalised services – for individuals, families and communities with an emphasis on prevention.
  • Building the capacity of the Workforce – making full and effective use of the whole workforce, developing confidence and trust and shifting the balance of power and control. Front line workers will need to use therapeutic relationships to help those with complex needs gain control of their lives. They will need to be supported to practice accountably and exercise professional autonomy. The report also proposes the introduction of a new paraprofessional role, taking responsibility for delegated casework
  • Building capacity for sustainable change – developing effective leadership and management who can monitor and evaluate delivery of improved outcomes for people who use services and develop change by service and organisational re-design.

Scottish Executive


The Scottish Executive has welcomed the findings of the 21st Century Review and committed itself to bringing forward legislation to drive the changes that are needed to meet the aims of the report.

In particular, it will, amongst other things:

  • Set up a Cabinet Delivery Group to oversee the implementation of the reforms;
  • Establish a National Social Work Services Forum, chaired by the Minister;
  • Establish a system for setting national priorities in social work services;
  • Bring together regional and national partner agencies to develop new joint approaches.

In addition, to the above, the Executive will support the whole change process with additional funding.

The change programme will also:

  • define the protected functions of the Social Worker;
  • develop a career structure for social workers;
  • develop a clear framework of professional accountability
  • develop a capable, well prepared and supported workforce;
  • Introduce the concept of the paraprofessional worker

Next Steps

The Scottish Executive will be discussing the detailed implications of the Review’s findings prior to producing a full implementation plan. This will form the

second stage of the Executive’s response to be published later in the year which will include detailed funding proposals, outcome measures and performance monitoring arrangements

Issues for UNISON:

UNISON will be considering its response at the Social Work Conference to be held on 24th March 2006 in Glasgow which will be addressed by Willie Roe, Chairman of the Review..

At the Conference, members will need to consider:

  • how the Review will affect their working lives,
  • to what extent it will solve the current difficulties of recruitment and retention;
  • whether sufficient funding will be made available;
  • the impact and concerns of the new paraprofessionals

Further Information

Report of the 21st Century Social Work Review

Scottish Executive response

Scottish Executive News Release

UNISON Press Release


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