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BLOG: SCRA statistics – Social workers remain the key players in continuous assessment of risk

As the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration (SCRA) publishes its annual report and statistics, SASW Manager Trisha Hall assesses what the findings say about social work.

The Scottish Children's Reporter Administration (SCRA) published its annual report and statistics on 31 October, showing an overall fall in the number of referrals for a sixth year. However, the figures do reveal a growing percentage of new-born babies being referred.

The Government’s Getting It Right for Every Child policy and guidance is informing practice, and joint working is increasingly evident, although so much is done within a context of competing demands on professionals’ time. The current austerity agenda has squeezed resources tighter than ever, and families are struggling, which many social workers no doubt are witnessing on a daily basis. 

Scotland remains justifiably proud of its unique system, created by Lord Kilbrandon in 1964, which aims to protect and safeguard children and young people and consistently puts their welfare at the centre of all decisions about them. There have been recent changes to the system (Children’s Hearing Act 2011, implemented in June 2013), however the welfare principles have remained as solid as they were before.

Our learning about the Early Years, and how what happens within the first crucial months and years of a child’s life sets the scene for their future, has dramatically increased, driven by Dr Harry Burns, Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer, and others in positions of influence.

The Early Years Framework and the “Early Years’ Collaborative” exercises across Scotland are reflective of strong and positive intent to effect change.  Social workers have the unique training to assess and respond to families where there is identified need, or the need for protection of the most vulnerable members of society. Sadly, the number of families where such need is evident is not decreasing.

It is no surprise that the amount of referrals relating to “child likely to suffer unnecessarily, or be impaired seriously in his health or development due to lack of parental care”, referred by social work, stand out in the SCRA statistics.

The time after birth is frequently the most optimum time to work with parents. Social workers will do their utmost to do so on a voluntary basis, but sometimes the supervision requirement is essential to stress the importance of protecting the new-born child.

 In local authorities where restructure and reorganisation have meant real challenges in terms of line management, it can be hard for workers to have the essential time for reflection and discussion as part of practice supervision.

Competent and confident social workers need to be able to discuss their assessment and analysis of risk with colleagues in health and others around the child, as well as with their line manager. We do hear of workers suggesting a referral to the Reporter and the protection of an order means at least protected time in almost impossibly busy caseloads. The negative publicity in recent serious case reviews after the tragic deaths of young children may have had an impact.

Referral to SCRA can be to minimise the risk that individual workers get targeted if things go wrong, however SASW would contend that such is less likely than the harsh reality of an increase in the recognition of babies that need protection from harm.

Social workers remain the key players in continuous assessment of risk, but hopefully also in supporting and actively facilitating continuous improvement.