How do we hold the hand of the workforce?
CELCIS's Director looks at the critical need to support the children's services workforce if Scotland is to keep The Promise for children and families
This article first appeared in Holyrood Magazine on 14 February 2022.
Having marked the 2nd anniversary of the conclusion of Scotland’s Independent Review of Care, The Promise, there has rightly been a spotlight on what progress has been made and the ongoing drive to strengthen the collective effort, focus and approach to realise its ambitions for children, young people and their families.
Reporting just a few weeks short of Scotland being plunged into our pandemic response, the review held a mirror up, asking questions of us all and demanding action. One vital consideration for attention was the ‘workforce’, a workforce that includes practitioners and carers across a number of professions in both the public and third sectors. The Promise set out a strong vision for a responsive workforce, one which is based on what children, their families and carers need. It was clear that the scaffolding of support required for children and families means changes for the workforce too.
Declaring that “Scotland must hold the hands of those who hold the hand of the child”, and making the case that the people working with children and families need investment and support, and time to develop and maintain relationships, it acknowledged a number of things: the development of a national values framework would be necessary, in an environment where all workers and carers are trauma-informed and are encouraged to bring their “whole selves without being impeded by ‘professional constructs’.”
The children’s services workforce was presented with a clear call to say and do things quite differently. Answering this call needs action from leaders and decision-makers. Traditional approaches to change will be insufficient to ensure the type of improvement and scale of good practice we want to see. It will take more than legislation, policy, guidance or training to further enable workers to work more flexibility and adapt in tune with the specific needs of individual children and families.
In our work with practitioners in local authority and Health and Social Care Partnership areas, we have seen how using explicit, well-defined practice models, coupled with effective support, can be used to ensure people have the right training, coaching and oversight to be able to work to quality standards that are designed to improve the experiences and outcomes for the people they are working to support.
This improvement agenda across children’s services also needs Scotland to increase capacity across the board so that at all levels of the system, we have both the people and the skills to make real change happen. This can’t be addressed by layering on additional tasks and responsibilities to the existing workforce already working with children and families.
Nor can we lose sight of the context of the effects of the pandemic: for children, young people and families, and for our workforce. There is no doubt that people rose to the challenge, adapted to the impact of these extraordinary circumstances, and drove creative and innovative solutions to continue to support people most in need. However, workforces were already stretched and challenged by the level of need. They have now experienced an unprecedented period of accumulative pressures and acute stress, while also facing an uncertain future both in terms of the potential new level of support they may need to respond to, and the structural changes before them through the developments of a National Care Service and The Promise.
To achieve effective change, we need to listen to and understand the experiences of the workforce, and to respond to their immediate wellbeing too. There is a real risk of loss of capacity, morale and direction otherwise, a risk that Scotland can ill afford if we’re to keep The Promise. When children and families need support, it is vital that we have a well-supported workforce full of people who are sustained to use their skills, relationships and confidence to work in different ways to support children and families effectively.
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