Jobson to head merged directorate

30th April 2004 at 01:00
Roy Jobson, Edinburgh's director of education, has been appointed on a three-year contract to head a new department of children and families. The management structure of the education service will also be reviewed.

The reorganisation involves the break-up of the social work department; a new department of health and social care will be responsible for the needs of adults and will be expected to forge close links with health authorities.

The plans, due to be approved by the council yesterday (Thursday), have come under fire from the Association of Directors of Social Work which pressed "strong arguments in favour of retaining an integrated social work department".

The city has pledged there will be no redundancies as the new structures are implemented over the next 12 months.

Council leaders presented the shake-up as being in line with the drive to bring together joined-up services throughout the UK - and was "not a knee-jerk reaction to recent events".

Nonetheless, the move follows a review of council services in the wake of severe criticisms of the social work department after the death of 11-week-old Caleb Ness at the hands of his father. The baby had been on the child protection register and an inquiry found faults "at almost every level" in Edinburgh's child protection system.

Tom Aitchison, chief executive of Edinburgh City Council, made clear the new department for children and families will be a new department, not a "bolting on" of some parts of social work to education.

"This department will ensure that the existing contributions made by teachers, social workers and childcare staff are more effectively co-ordinated in order to secure the best possible outcomes for children and their families," Mr Aitchison said.

In a comment that reflects political frustrations about professional boundaries, Mr Aitchison added: "The task will be to adopt shared values, mutual respect and a predisposition to working together."

Mr Aitchison attempted to soothe the sensitivities of social workers by going out of his way to endorse their "continuing professionalism". He pledged his intention "to develop a more supportive environment for all staff, particularly those involved in child protection work".

Edinburgh's reforms reflect similar changes in other councils, including Stirling, East Ayrshire, East Dunbartonshire, Clackmannanshire and Shetland.

In its submission to Edinburgh Council, the Association of Directors of Social Work "strongly asserts" there is little evidence that structural change will bring about improvements in the service.

It suggests that an integrated service is the best protection and continues: "Indeed the consequential upheaval and impact on morale of the workforce could potentially make things worse in the short term."

In a swipe at the appointment of an educationist to take charge of any aspect of social work, the association declares: "It is most important that the workforce is confident in its professional leadership through the chief social work officer role at all times, but most critically at times of crisis."

The association points out that joint working across education and social work departments has proved perfectly possible without organisational upheavals.

* Next week: Ewan Aitken, Edinburgh City Council's executive member for education, defends the changes.

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