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Care watchdog finds significant improvements in Aberdeenís social work services


The Care Inspectorate has noted considerable improvements in Aberdeen City Council's Social Care and Wellbeing services since the last full inspection four years ago.

care. The independent watchdog body focused on nine themes during its most recent inspection between May and September this year.

Inspectors initially scrutinised 96 case records, analysed 730 Social Care and Wellbeing documents, and hosted focus groups with service users. They analysed the Social Work Inspection Agency (SWIA) 2008 performance report and follow-up reports, including inspections of prison-based and substance misuse services. The team also studied Care Commission reports, key performance data and risk-assessment activity led by Audit Scotland.

Inspectors made positive findings in four aspects of the service and said they required no further scrutiny:

  • governance and financial management of social work services;
  • assessment and care management;
  • compliance with equality and human rights legislation;
  • areas requiring urgent attention.

They said there were no areas of the service's work in need of urgent attention – and found that the service had an effective system of governance and business planning, strong leadership, a clear sense of purpose and direction, and well defined lines of accountability and decision-making.

The inspection report says there was positive evidence that assessments, care plans, reviews, policies and procedures are in place, were carried out in good time, and were of good quality.

Inspectors found that equality issues were well embedded and that cross-service work with older people and those with disabilities was a particular example of good practice.

The inspectorate required more information from elected members, carers, staff, managers, trade unions and partner agencies, including service providers, in the following areas:

  • management and support of staff;
  • the outcomes for people who use social care services and carers;
  • risk assessment and risk management;
  • self-evaluation resulting in improvement planning and delivery;
  • partnership working.

Staff confirmed to the inspectors that they felt well supported by accessible and approachable managers, receiving regular information and feedback, and were generally happy with what had been a sustained period of change in recent years. Inspectors said the Chief Social Work Officer, service director Fred McBride, was accessible and visible to staff through a period of significant service changes. They also found that newsletters, bulletins, staff briefings and staff meetings were well established.

But the Care Inspectorate said that, while Social Care and Wellbeing was starting to develop a strategic approach to workforce planning, there was no service-wide workload management system – although managers closely monitored caseloads to ensure a fair distribution of work.

In terms of positive outcomes for service users, the inspectors found good practice in most children's services and in the criminal justice service. But they queried whether reviews of people placed in care homes were always being carried out in good time and noted a varied approach to outcome-related performance across Social Care and Wellbeing services.

Inspectors said staff had a good awareness of their responsibilities for child, adult and public protection but there was room for improvements in risk management.

The Care Inspectorate said self-evaluation, professional supervision and case auditing processes had been reviewed but added that a framework for continuous improvement across the service was still at an early stage.

The inspection report said working relations between the service and partner organisations had been generally productive in recent years, with a willingness to engage on long-term strategic issues. The document calls for formal partnership agreements to be agreed on financial planning and investment to support service changes.

Inspectors said integrated commissioning strategies were in place for alcohol and drugs services, were being implemented in children's services, and were under way for older people' services, but had not been completed for mental health or learning disability services. The inspectorate said the service should work with partners to agree a timetable for joint commissioning strategies and for joint strategies for carers and advocacy services.

The report also said the social work service should work closely with its partners to ensure the potential benefits of establishing a Local Authority Trading Company to deliver adult services are maximised and embedded in a shared strategy.

The Care Inspectorate has made seven recommendations for improvement, which will be included in the Service Business Plan 2013-16 to be considered by elected members next May.

Social Care and Wellbeing convener Councillor Len Ironside CBE said: "The directorate, under the strong and decisive leadership of director Fred McBride, has made huge strides in the past few years to improve the service.

"A great deal has been achieved already, thanks to Mr McBride and his dedicated teams of skilled staff and managers, and we are committed to improving further by acting upon the Care Inspectorate's recommendations."

Mr McBride said: "The SWIA inspection in 2008 found that the service for which I was later to become responsible was adequate in three areas, weak in five, and unsatisfactory in two. This most recent report clearly signals that the inspectors found a service in far better shape in 2012.

"We have exciting and ambitious plans to reshape social work services to meet the significant challenges ahead and clearly articulated improvement plans to take the service forward. No one should be in any doubt that the service is committed to delivering excellent services for our increasing numbers of users."