Chief Social Work Officer presents annual report for 2021/22 to full Council

Highland Council’s Chief Social Work Officer presented a positive annual report (2021/22) to members at a meeting of Highland Council today (8 December 2022). 

The report contained a number of key achievements by social work services, despite significant challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Members heard that the teams had managed to keep children, young people and adults safe by managing to deliver services during the pandemic and through the recovery phase. 

The report also highlighted that social work services had to be innovative during that time, and the social work teams worked hard to innovate and create or build effective partnerships with a variety of organisations. 

Fiona Duncan, Executive Chief Officer for Health and Social Care and Highland Council’s Chief Social Work Officer, said: “Across the 21/22 COVID-19 period, social work and health staff continued to sustain delivery of legal, national, and local requirement with workforce availability remaining above 90%. 

“This was extremely commendable, particularly due to the fact that staff were reacting to something they had never previously experienced. I would like to record my personal thanks for their hard work, dedication and willingness to adapt in order to continue to deliver services.” 

The Chief Social Work Officer’s annual report also highlighted the excellent work which was carried out to introduce, implement and deliver the National Transfer Scheme for Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children. 

The process was mandated towards the end of 2021 and for Highland it meant three or four young people were allocated to Highland for every 650 who arrive in the UK. 

By the end of March 2022, Highland Council had received three young people. In collaboration with the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) accommodation was secured. 

Fiona said: “Our alliance with our third sector partners enabled us to provide a service to these young people and to begin to develop a model to ensure ongoing sustainability in meeting our mandated responsibility. 

“I am pleased to say that these young people have successfully integrated into their living arrangements, are learning English, progressing with their asylum claims and building links within the Inverness community.” 

Among the other notable achievements during 2021/22 were: 

  • Adapting service provision to address the care at home and care home social care crisis 

  • Reducing the number of outstanding unpaid work hours following the removal of restrictions, thus allowing a return to unpaid work in communities 

  • Trainee Mental Health Officer Scheme in partnership with Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen 

  • The introduction of a mentoring scheme through Barbara Firth, author of the national guidance, to support 12 members of staff from across Health, Social Work, Education and High Life Highland to undertake Learning Reviews and disseminate key messages and learning across agencies 

  • A full review and update of Care and Risk Management processes with an increased focus on Care elements 

Elsewhere ‘Home to Highland’ continued to focus on bringing children and young people back to Highlands whilst developing resources and services to improve outcomes. 

‘Home to Highland’ aims to return Care Experienced Young People (CEYP) to Highland from Out of Area (OOA) residential placements, whilst also building services in-area to help children avoid OOA residential placements. The Programme aims to reduce spot-purchased residential placements, retain more young people in the Highland area and increase the number of children placed in foster care and family alternatives. 

Since 2018, over 70 children have returned to Highland and over 400 have worked with the ‘Home to Highland’ team with demonstrably improved educational and emotional wellbeing outcomes. 

Fiona said: “A combination of new services and the creative use of existing provisions are enabling children to remain in the communities they know and that care for them. This also reduces the need for additional out of area placements.” 

A total of 25 young people were returned from OOA or enabled to move-on from residential in-area placements in 2021/22 and 5 of the intended 10 children planned to return this year, already have. It is hoped that the total will reduce to 17 young people OOA in Summer 2022. This will equate to the lowest number of children OOA in over eight years. 

The report also highlighted the importance of improved educational attainment of CEYP. 

Fiona added: “All children returning from OOA receive a bespoke education/positive destination package but the bulk of work of this team is developing individualised education packages and working with families to enable children to stay in Highland who are on the edge of care and often on part-time timetables.” 

The report also touched on some of the priorities for 2022/23, which includes exciting developments in how the Council gathers the views of young people. 

The Council has identified that the Viewpoint system in use is outdated and plans to progress an independent model with the Highland Children and Young People’s Forum. This will include the use of virtual reality headsets, currently being piloted with a small group of young people and the use of online platform, Discord, which enables young people to connect with mentors and professionals in a safe space, on a 1-1 basis or in small groups. 

The 2021/22 report also highlighted a number of challenges, which social work is currently addressing, including: 

  • Budgetary pressures and savings continue to impact on the ability of services to strengthen core service provision on a recurring basis 

  • Short-term funding allocations linked to national initiatives have, and will continue, to present significant challenges 

  • Increase in demand for social work services including adult protection and child protection referrals, and the increase in complex situations 

  • The demand for care at home has routinely exceeded the available capacity with gaps in service provision due to significant recruitment challenges 

  • The impact of ongoing COVID-19 related impacts and the emerging cost of the living crisis on the health and wellbeing of staff across all areas 

Fiona concluded: “The past year has seen a number of significant challenges across all areas of social work provision. However, it has also resulted in some exceptional and innovative practice delivery.” 

You can see the full report here. 

8 Dec 2022