Conferring by the Clyde

The Social Care Association is particularly strong in Scotland at the moment. It has a thriving membership. It has undertaken some large-scale pieces of work there. The new head of training, Liz Willetts, lives there. And the outgoing President, David Baird, comes from Scotland, working at the Kibble. So it made good sense for the SCA to gather their clans by the Clyde, in the shadow of the magnificent arc of the Erskine Bridge.

Professional Issues

The Conference began with a good debate at the Policy and Practice Meeting. Nick Johnson, at his first Conference as Chief Executive (no longer Acting) took the brave, but wise, decision not to trammel the debate with over-rigorous rules, and the result was a series of motions which were modified from the floor until they received consensus support.

The first motion expressed concern about the expectations placed on social care workers that they should administer medication without adequate training. This received general support, the only objection being that service users should look after their own medication whenever possible.

The second was a portmanteau resolution which described a lot of the problems concerning residential child care today. Some of the comments in the analysis were clearly contentious, but the motion was whittled down and modified until it raised the issue of the best way to enhance children’s rights without undermining other aspects of parenting.

Next there was concern about the need for social care workers to register as soon as they had opportunities to do so. Finally there was a motion about staff who might be placed at risk where there were allegations of abuse. As with the other motions, the Chief Executive was charged with going away and doing something about it.


David Baird, as the President of SCA, opened the Annual Seminar with his presidential address. He had been in childcare for 29 years, and worked at the Kibble since 1991. Much of his speech was based on his experiences there, and the ways in which a traditional and out-dated residential model had been transformed into a range of relevant services, including throughcare which follows young people well into adulthood, assisting with housing and preparation for employment.

David identified a number of threats to good practice, including short-term funding, excessive inspection, the danger of standards sinking to the minimum identified, bad publicity and the growing risk of litigation. His tone remained up-beat, though, and his speech was full of practice-based wisdom and will merit reading when it is published.

Carole Wilkinson, as Chief Executive of the Scottish Social Services Council,
was also up-beat. She felt that politicians now genuinely valued social care services and appreciated the scale of their impact on people’s lives. She emphasised the importance of the workforce, the need for training to improve skills, the gender imbalance, the need for planning and the need to push positive news stories in the media.

Looking to the future, she foresaw the need for more partnership working, more multidisciplinary teams, and a greater emphasis on user-led services. She quoted a recent article in Community Care which had examined all the inquiry reports since Denis O’Neill, and had found common factors in all of them, lapses in good standard practice in areas such as communication, decision-making, supervision and recording.

In conclusion she called for greater commitment to the development of a professional workforce, not only by Government and employers, but by the workers themselves. Given good leadership and self-confidence, Carole believed that workers would innovate and develop services to match needs.

Leon Fulcher gave a multi-slide whizz through history and round the world, speaking of the ways in which residential child care and other services had developed – and at times been abandoned. He ranged from the Industrial Feeding Schools set up by Sheriff Watson in Aberdeen in 1841 to Q Camps in England in the 1940s, Children’s Hearings in Scotland, and pictures from other countries he had visited.

Leon warned of the dangers of relying on technology in place of relationships, he defended large institutions as the best option in certain economic and social circumstances, and he inveighed against ignorant external senior managers who do not understand the services.

He too ended optimistically, but pointed out that “The real care outcomes need to be measured 15 to 20 years later”. Hear, hear.

David Behan, Director General of Social Care at the Department of Health, started with reasons for optimism and reasons for caution, both relating to the public profile of social care services. He noted that social care systems reflect the economic and social nature of the time, and at present things are in flux. The relationship between the state, the family and the individual is at the heart of the question and that relationship is now unclear. Should people spend their life savings on care in their old age, for example, or be able to leave their wealth to their families?

Having touched on restorative justice, hospices, extra-care housing, individual budgets, internal markets, social enterprise, partnerships, hybrid ideas, the impact of new technology, the globalisation of the workforce, demographics and higher expectations on the part of service users, David suggested that we were now coming to the end of over-centralised Government control, and would be returning to localised answers. A lot had been achieved, but there was a lot to do, and he closed by outlining the scale of services and needs to be met.

Lord Victor Adebowale was the final guest speaker. As usual he was witty, and at points challenging, talking around his theme of differences between Scotland and England. Unhappily he gave the impression of being so busy that he had had inadequate time to prepare anything of substance, but he provided an entertaining end to the Seminar.

Workshops – Doncaster, MS and Smoking

It is always a bit hit-and-miss whether one joins interesting workshops, but this year we hit on three which were very interesting and very different.

Doncaster Joan Beck led an absorbing session on the way that Doncaster is developing local services. It is impossible to provide the detail of the structures and systems adopted, but in essence there are managers who control all the Council’s services very close to the public they serve, but on a matrix basis they also specialise in different areas of service. The aim is to develop community identity and pride, and according to Joan, it is beginning to work.

One outcome seems to be havoc at the senior management level, as virtually everything is coming under one directorate, leaving other Directors with little of substance to do. But if it works at ground level for the citizens of Doncaster, so what?

MS The session with Alison Peebles proved to be one of the most intriguing. She is an actress who has appeared on Taggart, and she is not the sort of person one would expect as a speaker at an SCA event. She learnt that she had multiple sclerosis a few years ago, but at first she was in denial. Following a serious fall, she had to admit the problem to herself, but it was some time before she told her colleagues or members of her family.

The way she recounted the impact of the disease on her life was very moving – its physical impact, the way it left her with a limited fund of energy for each day, the stratagems she devised to cope, and the illness’s impact on her professional life. Professionals in social care sometimes assess needs mechanistically, when the major factor is the person’s own outlook on life and their perception of their requirements.

Smoking The last workshop we attended was run by John McCormack and Donna Vernon, and addressed the question of service users smoking in social care settings. Scotland has once again beaten England to it in legislating in this field, but it does not mean that the Scottish Parliament had all the answers. Indeed, it was suggested that they had pushed the legislation through quickly, with a view to amending it when the flaws were identified in practice.

Banning smoking has been generally seen as a real success story by smokers and non-smokers alike, and a proportion of people have taken the opportunity to stop smoking. However, there are all sorts of tricky situations in social care practice, in residential and domiciliary care in particular. Service users have the right to smoke in their own homes, and workers have the right to be protected from secondary smoking.

So how can smoking service users be provided with social care services? The current answer, it seems, is tricky guidance, whereby service users can’t smoke two hours before staff are likely to visit them, but if anyone thinks that this is the last word, they must be simple.


Each year the SCA offers awards. This year, the National Merit Award went to David Brindle of the Guardian, whose reporting on social care has always been of the highest order. Roy Grimwood received the Kathleen Lewis Award for a person who has contributed to SCA, having given an outstanding lead in matters concerning childcare, as the outgoing Vice Chair of the Social Care Practice Committee. And there was a new award for organisations, going appropriately to CrossReach – the new name for the Church of Scotland’s social care services. CrossReach has both had a major impact in Scotland over many years, and has actively supported SCA. All three choices met with approval from the members present.

The Future

The new President is Des Kelly. He has been an active member of SCA for many years, and for eight years he was Deputy Chief Executive. He has played so many key roles that it is strange that it has taken so long for him to take over the figurehead role.

In winding up the Annual Seminar, Des outlined the initiatives taken by the SCA over the years, and the impact which it had had on social policy. Where will he take it next? He knows the Association well, and is ideally placed to take the SCA into its 60th Anniversary year. The Annual Seminar next year is to be held on 11 – 12 March 2008 at the Marriott Hotel, Cardiff, and SCA will be sixty years old in 2009, so the celebrations will start in Wales.

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