Sheriff scornful of social work mess
Hamish Hutchinson • Published 26 Jul 2012 09:00
THE Sheriff's note that sparked a probe into child care at Clackmannanshire Council has been published.
The note, which was made regarding the long-term care of a child, slammed the social work department for deficits in practice.
It was written in June last year and revealed by the Advertiser in November.
That led to a special council meeting before Christmas and the launch of an independent review which concluded that the sheriff's concerns were justified.
An improvement plan has since been put in place, including the recruitment of extra social workers and senior staff, and an investigation is under way into the long-term child care team.
In the note the sheriff said the examination of the former allocated social worker, her successor and their immediate superior involved in the case found professional deficits that were "deeply concerning".
He spoke about a culture of poor record keeping "at all levels" but recognised frontline social workers were working under "considerable pressure".
Sheriff Mackie wrote, "The reporting in the entries was lazy and inaccurate. It was common to find cryptic, subjective notes containing expressions of opinion of the success or otherwise of a contact visit or the demeanour of participants devoid of any factual information upon which such important judgements might be made. Such notes being filed so late served no more purpose than if they had not been filed at all.
"That they were created in time for court appearances disclosed a self serving dishonesty among the practitioners and a highly discreditable disregard for the interests of the child."
He said that social workers had a tendency to cut and past portions from earlier reports giving the impression that the author might be writing authoritatively on matters which they had no direct knowledge.
He added, "There was no system for checking files. There was no robust system in place that might alert the allocated social workers' line manager to any difficulties or failings in a case. That would only come to her attention when the problem in fact manifested itself."
The sheriff noted that a practitioner with the Aberlour Childcare Trust described poor record keeping as a "terrible, terrible practice" and a "disgrace".
He added, "She considered that such lax record keeping meant that the children concerned were not being afforded the care they should be. Furthermore there could be no confidence in any decisions by the Local Authority on the basis of such poor records. Other professional persons engaged to work with or in connection with children who are the subject of such poor records such as psychologists would be at a disadvantage and ultimately the child would be ill served."
As part of the improvements at the local authority, a caseload audit and review has begun and a Performance Management Forum specifically for childcare has been established.
Clackmannanshire Council Chief Executive Elaine McPherson said it was now time to focus on the improvements.
She said, "The service has already taken forward a number of actions and additional staff at manager and practitioner levels have been recruited.
"I have contacted colleagues in both the Care Inspectorate and the Scottish Government and will be meeting with them in the coming weeks to discuss what support and practical assistance might be available to provide a degree of objective assurance to the council and to assist with service development. The council's Housing, Health & Care Committee will receive a full progress report at its meeting in August."
This article appeared in Alloa & Hillfoots Advertiser 25 Jul 12
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