The thought for this post came during a brief conversation with my sister yesterday. I was berating and ranting about how I have a feeling that ‘no-one ever listens to us’. The ‘us’ in question, just to give the conversation some context, was front-line, currently practising social workers.
The reason for my railing was the way that I have been following the National Children and Adult Services Conference 2010. Mostly my links have been maintained through a variety of Twitter feeds that I am following. Twitter is good for checking while sitting on buses or when you are hanging around because you’ve shown too little faith in London Transport and turned up 20 minutes early for an appointment.
The National Children and Adult Services Conference has had a lot of influential speakers – ministers, shadow ministers, heads of various services and quangos. I see (and maybe I’m wrong in this) no place for actual practitioners at events such as this. It costs £500 a throw and there’s no way on earth any local authority is going to let loose anyone who actually works in the frontline access conferences that have expenses such as those.
Instead, they create little silos of managers talking to policy-makers talking to consultants talking to reporters. About Social Care. About us. But not to us.
Yes, Hilton Dawson speaks, the Heads of the College of Social Work speak but where are the people who actually work in social care at the front-line? Not in the managers’ officers earning comfortable pay packets to commission utterly inappropriate services and push us into working in unintuitive ways. We have a lot of people in ‘social care’ who would wince at the actual day to day work.
A few years ago, when I was in a different team (I’m sure I’ve told this story before, so indulge me for a moment or two), one of the assistant directors in the borough was doing an ‘on the coal-face’ type exercise. For some reason, I can’t remember why, I was ‘volunteered’ by my manager to take him out with me on my visits. I think because she was fairly sure I wouldn’t say anything rude! The cases I had on the cards (already booked up by the time I knew he was coming) were bread and butter stuff. Very straightforward and non-complex pieces of work – one initial community care assessment and one review with a carer involved.
On the second visit, when we were speaking to the user and carer, I explained what services we could offer, he chipped in and was very sympathetic – he was (I say ‘was’ because he is in a different role now) a really pleasant guy – actually offering more than we would under our eligibility criteria because it ‘seemed rational’. Afterwards, I explained to him that we couldn’t offer the care that he had suggested because it was outside the budget allowed by the authority. This surprised him. He had an idea how rationing actually works on paper but when you are on the front line telling people that they can’t get a service that they desperately need. That was a ‘new’ experience for him. He saw the stress of the carer and wanted to help. Wanted the service to be available for them. It wasn’t though.
It’s what I do every day. I am the person who tells users and carers that their local day centre is closing down and the social contacts they have made will be dissipated as the council see it as ‘unimportant’. I tell the overstretched and undervalued carers that respite has been cut because eligibility criteria have changed. I am the person who people complain to when they get the bills for their care services and explain how ineffective the agency care workers are. I am the person who sits with someone in tears as we try and battle through a Self Assessment Questionnaire which has no subtletly and reads like another DLA form, putting a price and a cost on something as ethereal as disability – especially fluctuating disability. I am the person who tells people they can only access minimal services because the criteria of the council have changed.
Not Paul Burstow. Not Andrew Lansley. Not the people sitting in the room at the National Children and Adults Services Conference 2010. They may be experts in organisations but they are not experts in practice. They do not speak for the social care sector, they speak for the managers of the social care sector.
Now my sister, who is a lot less hot-headed that I, gently reminded me that this is not something that is exclusive to the social care sector. This happens in all industries. Managers talk to managers.
I have to wonder where the expertise lies.
When I hear Paul Burstow make statements about personal budgets and everyone nodding along at how awful it is on the ‘front line’ without any of them ever having an experience of going into someone’s home and holding the hand of someone who is terrified by another form, another set of bureaucratic functions that seem to be further removed from the reality of needing care immediately.
When I hear Cynthia Bower, I wonder how she would feel sitting next to me this week as I attend yet another safeguarding meeting at one of the ‘supposed’ ‘Good’ residential homes that can’t even manage the very basics of care and have not had an actual inspection for a couple of years.
Yet, she is the ‘expert’ who is able to make all sorts of claims about improving services by taking away controls and checks. And the managers cheer because THEY don’t like being inspected.
Sure, I complain about performance indicators. A lot. The reason I complain about performance indicators is not because I don’t think we should have our work measured objectively. I do. I just think some of the PIs are utterly ridiculous and have no relation to the quality of work we undertake.
Back to the National Conference of Children and Adult Services. It’s fairly interesting some of the noises that have come out of the processes. I know there are practitioner events such as Community Care Live. Indeed, on 17th November there is a Children and Families Event – definitely worth attending if you are involved in that area of work and available.
I know the different conferences are aimed at different groups. It would be interesting to know if they say the same things.
My father was involved in the disability advocacy movement as a disabled man. He expressed heartily the need for user involvement in the development of services (quite rightly!). Similarly, we in the profession need to advocate for our own professional roles in relation to our managers.
My message, and I’m channelling him now is ‘speak to us and not for us’.
One day, I’d like to see the same people attending events like Community Care Live as attend the National Conference of Children and Adult Services.