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Orkney 30 years on

Following on from an interview with STV News, SASW National Director Alison Bavidge reflects on how social work policy and practice has changed 30 years on from the Orkney child abuse scandal

The events in Orkney in 1991 were devastating for everyone involved.  Children were traumatised and 30 years on, those individuals, families and professionals are likely still affected.

Social work and other professions involved in child protection work have come a long way since then.  The Inquiry noted that all involved acted in good faith but found flawed systems and processes.  This finding that good faith is not enough (and can even be damaging) helped to drive forward the specialism of child protection work within social work as well as research, evidence, guidance, and the structures that support workers protecting children and young people today.

Over the last three decades, there has been significant legislative development, much of it since Scottish devolution.  Scottish Government Revised Guidance on Child Protection has just been consulted on.  National child protection leadership and local child protection committees have promoted working across professional bases. The registration of the social work and social care workforces, our National Care Standards and the registration of care services continue to drive forward strategies for improvement.

The Joint Investigative Interviewing programme has piloted training for social workers and police so as to improve the very complex and delicate work of collating evidence from children who are victims of and witness to serious crimes.  The Care Inspectorate and Health Improvement Scotland are developing Barnahus Standards to ensure responses are sensitive, child-centred, and reduce risk of re-traumatising children affected by crime.

Much has changed but complacency is not an option.  Children continue to experience abuse within families, in our communities  and online. [EG1] [AB2]  The work of The Promise and Scotland’s incorporation of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child should drive the next phase of improvements for children’s services by placing the needs and experiences of children at the forefront of developments in policy and practice.  

SASW remembers Orkney and commits to working with Government and other stakeholders, bringing the experience and professional expertise of the social work profession, to ensure that these developments result in meaningful additional rights to children in Scotland and the right support structures to ensure better support for children and their families in the future.