Technology, Social Media and Social Services – Finding new ways to ‘help’

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I have some across lots of discussions and debates about ways of using social media and new technologies and interactions to ‘help’ social services become more effective. Most of it seems to revolve around building online directories and databases of micro providers and services that are available which build on so-called community capacity to improve the way that personal budgets can or might work.

At the risk of sounding overly cynical there is nothing ‘innovative’ in my mind about building a directory of services.  To me, this is not a particularly innovative way to use ‘technology’ in social services.  It taking a very obvious and well-trodden route to using new technologies. Providing directories while being useful to a certain group of people again exacerbates the isolation of those who are not party to or able to use them.  Being innovative isn’t always necessary to be helpful but it is very important that new ideas are focussed so we don’t just end up with increasingly specialised, localised directories that might have more ‘interactive’ features and feedback, look more ‘user led’ and compatible with the buzz words of social media but in the end they are brushing the surface of possibilities.

It feels more and more as if that there is a growing division between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ as far as personal budgets have been extended and does absolutely nothing to address or use technologies to address those who reside continually in the ‘have not’ section.

While at work, we labour with database systems that have clearly been developed through conversations between commissioners and software companies without any recourse to frontline practitioners, nice new provider directories are being tinkered around with while the fundamental foundations of the systems we work with remain resolutely inaccessible.

I’ve had a few ideas myself and whilst I lack the technological expertise to see any of these ideas to fruition, this is a kind of ‘wish list’ of the sorts of things I’d like to see.  I’m under no illusion that these are ‘new’ ideas. I am sure similar things already exist in some form but they are things I’d like to see pan out in the longer run. Things I’d like to use at work.

I’d like to see more creativity in the use of technologies to assist with decision making for adults who have some kind of cognitive deficit. I’m a great fan of the ‘tablet’ and ‘touch screen’ model as I think it is intuitively an easier interface to understand.  When I see people instinctively reach out to touch the screen of my Kindle (which isn’t touchscreen!) I realise that we are becoming conditioned to seek the easiest input methods which are about touching a screen and speaking into a microphone and perhaps writing on a tablet. Now, voice recognition has improved, I’m yet to come across very successful handwriting recognition (possibly because I have scrawly almost illegible handwriting) but there is potential there. In the meantime, pictures and touchscreens seem like a good way to go.

Using pictures/sounds/music it can draw on multi-media ‘shows’ and explanations of different options – moving beyond the ‘written word’. Providing documentation in aural form or in pictorial/moving form rather than reams of leaflets. Having recordings of familiar voices or pictures of familiar faces might help to reassure. I’m a great fan of telecare in general with the proviso of always being mindful that the human contact is not replaced but in days where human contact is sparsely provisioned anyway, it may be something that can be experimented with.

Why not a YouTube type video to explain how services can be chosen instead of reams of ‘easy read’ leaflets which really aren’t remotely ‘easy read’. Instead of flooding people with lists of providers (which, while good for some ignores those who are restricted in terms of capacity and carers to choose ‘freely’ the types of services they garner) why not explain and expound in different ways the ways that services can work?

Why not explain providers in terms of what they can actually provide and what purpose they serve rather than creating directories that are meant for people with a good understanding of what they want and need?

I was in a day centre last week and there was a seemingly unused Wii. I wonder if he Kinect might be a better project to develop some type of interactive play, exercise and work as it doesn’t need a controller at all and uses the more innovative way of body movement.  Using participatory games with larger screens in company can provide different stimuli. I know why games developers  haven’t tackled directly the ‘older’ market with games that might otherwise reside in memories but why not repackage old school yard games and board games with Kinects and iPads? It may be a good way to introduce the use of these new technologies in a ‘friendly’ manner which may then see them used in other wider ways – such as directories or personalised information sources. Using YouTube video channels for personally designed ‘reminiscence’ therapies could personalise the delivery of memories and digitise memory boxes where items are not there to build up the frames of someone’s life and people aren’t there to fill in the gaps.

There are many ‘dating site’ type services that match people and organisations. Volunteers to voluntary groups etc. How about a type of match between schools and residential homes? I know it’s something that’s sometimes done locally where I work and having spoken to both providers and some of the kids who go in, they seem to enjoy it and it can change and break expectations – each of the other.  I

We talk of social media a lot and often it is used to provide ‘recommendations’ to particular services through these databases. Perhaps more user and carer led general recommendations can be collated. Crowd source an ‘introduction’ to social services provisions by those currently using the service.

Ask ‘what do you wish you’d known?’ ‘what do you wish someone had told you?’ and while taking out all the obviously libellous stuff, a local authority must be brave enough to leave in the criticisms. We learn through complains and criticisms and it can take a lot of guts (or anger) to make a complaint or to criticism and that MUST be respected by the service and the individuals at fault and used as a means of improvement.

I don’t want to see local authorities ‘whitewash’ problems in order to gain sparkling OFSTED or CQC inspections. It sullies the whole process and makes the inspections worthless. Regulation should be less authoritarian and more about actually making improvements and making things better for the end user – not about allowing local authorities to produce the ‘right’ results while poor practice is brushed away from the sight of the inspectors.

But back to my point about using social media to crowdsource – it is important that social media ALONE is not used as an ‘answer’. Crowd sourcing must be honest but it must also be broader than putting out an ‘internet consultation’ and having a Twitter account or blog. There must be pounding of the streets too to engage those who are not able to use digital means to put their points across. There should be knocking at doors and face to face discussions – not leaflets, not inaccessible (for some) groups.

Talking about crowdsourcing though, there’s a much better and perhaps more obvious way it can be used and certainly isn’t being used at the moment and that’s to engage other social workers and professionals into putting together more information and useful methods of practice for ourselves. Sure, it needs time but we remain reliant on organisations to provide ‘guidance’ such as SCIE (who do provide fantastic resources) and BASW and the College of Social Work but why none of these organisations who purport to exist to help social work and social care practice actually engage more directly and use social media and open access blogs/discussion groups/forums/micro blogging etc to engage with currently practicing social workers is completely beyond me.

I’ve become very interested in open access education and resources and feel there is great scope for professional engagement and information to build its own resources and information together with users and carers, together with other professionals but there has to be a push for social workers to see the benefit of sharing and finding appropriate ways to share the information that we learn every day.

I have other ideas which will come in different posts  but I’d be interested in hearing other peoples’ ideas for uses of ‘technology’ in the very broadest sense and how they can develop to help the broadest range of people we see in social services – particularly those who are less able to look information up in various fancy online directories.

Making Adult Social Care Better 1

I think I’m fairly good at griping and raising ‘problems’. For the next week, I want to try and take a positive approach and look at solutions as well as problems.

A few conversations I’ve had over the past week have focused on what is wrong with adult social work and mental health social work at the moment but more importantly what can be done to make things better.

My frustration is that for all the discussions that take place in the sector, so few seem to focus on those of us who have worked and are working at the so-called ‘front-line’. A home carer knows about the ways that contracts have been managed and awarded at the lowest cost and they will be able to tell you with far more insight than any contracting manager about the effects of 15 minute ‘spot’ visits and the lack of dignity present in the care for older people. They would also be able to give you an amalgam of ideas which branch from consideration, knowledge and experience of a wide range of service users.

Are employed home care workers ever invited to discussion forums and debates about the future of care? No. But you know, maybe the feedback would be the most valuable.

On a more personal level it feels as if the conversations about service design and delivery take place around and above us – with us being the people at the front line of support. Yes, there are discussions  with service users and carers but how much effort is made to seek out opinions that do not fit in the model that the consultants want them to express? How many of the people who attend these meetings, discussions and debates become self-selecting.

If you create a service user group, for example, in a particular borough, it seems to me obvious that you are most likely to engage will be those whose voices are already heard through different means.

I like to set myself up as some kind of advocate in terms of having an understanding of the needs of people who don’t often have their voices heard in these kinds of meetings and debates because the discussions I have are mostly with people who are at their lowest ebbs on the scale of health and need.

For me, it is crucially important that these people are not left behind by commissioners and service design but my experience and understanding of the sector suggests that they are.

I don’t want to keep harking back to the roll out of personal budgets on the back of the model of direct payments but I will. The voices of those without support and without advocates are understandably quieter and the way that the services have been designed focuses quite rightly on choice but what is not present is a way for an equitable service to be delivered to those who aren’t for some reason able to express choice.

So things that can make things better

– Use of advocates in a more formalised manner throughout the system. Volunteer advocates have a role but I see more mileage in professional advocacy with extensive investment in non-directed advocacy as that is potentially where the greatest need lies. If I weren’t so tied to my job in terms of needing a salary to pay the bills, I would, at a flash, try to establish some kind of enterprise to focus specifically on support planning and advocacy for adults with dementias. I hope there is a role for independent social work in this area in the future – in the meantime, if anyone wants to jump on my idea and run with it, I am happily ‘open sourcing’ it.

– involving front line practitioners in conversations, debates and discussions with the local authorities relinquishing some of the reins of power in respect to conversation. Recognise our professional vigour and competence. We see people and have discussions with people that will never attend forums collectively. We can signpost and support commissioners and contracting officers but we are never asked and never given the time to think more creatively outside our little boxes of control. We have ideas and a happier, more connected workforce is an engaged and interested one.

– speak to home care workers too – those with agencies and where in-house services still exist, with them. They will have good ideas about the ways that their services are failing.

– home visits to facilitate discussions – why have all meetings in a central hall when it can be limiting regarding those who have greater physical and mental health needs.

Technology can facilitate greater conversation and communication with two-way flows but face to face discussion is still very important as technology and keyboards can alienate some people – perhaps exactly those people whom it is most important to connect with.

-Practitioners have to be more engaged with developments in the sector and unfortunately I don’t see BASW or the embryonic College of Social Work being particularly engaged with social workers. Why have social workers become so disengaged from professional organisations and unions? Is it to do with a fear of employers? I think some more group action could really build the strength of social work but it is hard to shrug off the feeling that we are a disengaged and disenfranchised profession that like to feel sorry for our collective selves and wallow in our diminished status. I think if we took a stronger political stance and stood up to our employers and their political agendas and displayed more independence of thought, we would be able to demand more respect.

I have decided that while I can moan and groan with the best of ‘em, coming together with ideas for improvement is by far the best way of making our voices heard.

Law Commission Report on Adult Social Care – some thoughts

I’ve not had much time to look through the Law Commission Report into the proposed changed in Adult Social Care Law but to say it’s been long needed is an understatement. Adult Social Care Law is a hotch-potch and a mess. A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to a student who asked for some help with her law revision and she put it very succintly to me when she said it was much harder to understand community care legislation because it was ‘all over the place’ as compared to legislation related to work with children or in the mental health fields.

Hopefully, there is an upcoming reassessment and improvement in the way that community care legislation and legal duties are delivered through a single Act. That was the purpose of the Law Commission Report.

There are 12 parts to the report and I’ll briefly look at each section and make no apology for summarising the bits that I, personally, will find useful and interesting. The report in full and in summary can be found here. Among all the links, there is also an audio version available.

Part 1 – Introduction

Unsurprisingly, this explains the background to the report namely that adult social care legislation is currently spread across disparate Acts of Parliament and there are some pieces of legislation that remain ‘on the statute book’ but are not currently in use/useable (s47 of the National Assistance Act!)

Usefully, this section does introduce an initial brief definition of ‘Adult Social Care’ as being

the care and support provided by local social services
authorities pursuant to their responsibilities towards adults who need extra support. This includes older people, people with learning disabilities, physically disabled people, people with mental health problems, drug and alcohol misusers and carers.

The introduction continues to explain the timetable for the change process and some of the policy developments (most notably ‘personalisation’ and the move towards personal budgets in social care) that are taking place in the context of this review.

Part 2 – Defining Adult Social Care

While a brief definition was given in the introduction, this second section explains the need for a more robust definition of what or rather, who, comes into the definition of ‘adult social care’ in legislation.  This ‘definition’ will go beyond who receives services from social services departments and will include those who are not eligible for services so as well as duties regarding assessment and provision of services, there is likely to be a duty around providing more general information and advice.  This comes from splitting into two the principles of provision of social care – the universal (where the advice, information and support would come in) and needs identified following an assessment.

Part 3 – Structure of the Reform

This talks about the need for a consolidation of social care legislation. Currently, the suggestion is that there will be one single ‘Adult Social Care’ Bill which will cover both England and Wales (although this depends on how far Wales may diverge post-election).

As for the details of legislative powers and guidance, there are going to be three ‘levels’

– Primary Legislation

– Statutory Instruments

– Statutory Guidance

This seems to make sense and is particularly uncontroversial but I was particularly pleased that there will be a Code of Practice introduced (the Statutory Guidance). Those of us use to working with the Mental Health Act and the Mental Capacity Act will have a good understanding of how Codes of Practice link to primary legislation and I think they have been enormously helpful in explaining the legal issues to laypeople and practitioners.  It is actually specifically mentioned that the role of this Code of Practice will be similar to that in the MHA and MCA.

Part 4 – Statutory Principles

These ‘principles’ are familiar to those of us who work with Mental Health (and Children’s) legislation whereby there will be some underlying guiding principles and ideas to pull through the whole legislative framework.

There is an interesting discussion in this section about the way that the content of these principles had been considered when open to consultation. One of the principles (and the ‘main’ one) will be about a general aim to promote and contribute ‘to the well-being of the individual’ but the Act will also encompass some of the ways that this can be done by ensuring the individual in question is included in the process.

There is also a principle (unsurprisingly) about safeguarding adults from abuse and neglect and using a ‘least restrictive’ principle which will be familiar from the Mental Capacity Act. I am interested in how a ‘least restrictive’ principle will work in the context of people who do not lack capacity but I expect the issues will become clearer in the passage of time.

Part 5 – Assessments

Ah, the Assessment – that ‘core legal right’ at the heart of the Act and what will be the ‘gateway’ to services however they are delivered. Firstly the term ‘community care assessment’ was criticised as being old-fashioned. To be honest, we don’t use the term in any context except a legal one anymore anyway.

It is agreed that the threshold for accessing an assessment should be low and and that the assessment itself could be seen as a ‘service’ in its own right – the comparison is made with having a GP check up.

The local authority would be able to flag up voluntary sector services for people who did not meet the eligibility criteria and would be a source for advice and information as well as services.  The paper also talks about clarifying the position of people who refuse assessments so they might be able to access information and advice without having to have an ‘assessment’ of any kind.

The threshold for a fuller assessment will be met when a person may have needs that could be met by service provision so there will be a change of language in the law however there is a (quite right) determination that the threshold will remain low – because you might not know  if the need could be met until you have assessed!

There are a number of more specific guidelines mentioned about the way assessments should be conducted and who might conduct the assessments and how they would be undertaken. Generally, there are likely to be statutory instruments covering some of these issues and the details will follow, no doubt. There will be some scope for specialist assessments to be requested in certain circumstances where the user might have specific needs.

There was some mention of this being a reserved task for social workers but that was dismissed quite summarily (because there wouldn’t be enough social workers, I presume) and will be a matter for the statutory instruments!

There will also be further specific guidance about the scope and place for self-assessments in the process.

Part 6 – Eligibility

This is quite a complex one but basically, the recommendations include codifying what is, in effect, current practice – namely that the social care needs identified through an assessment are measured against eligibility criteria and if the individual meets those criteria as determined, the local authority arranges or provides services to meet those needs.

There would be in indication in the Code of Practice regarding the levels of eligible need and how the councils would interpret them.

The law is not going to specify where the line should be drawn by the local authorities regarding setting the ‘thresholds’.

Interesting discussion in the document about duties under s21 of the National Assistance Act. I won’t go into details because I don’t have time but it looks like the duties will be recommended to be retained.

Part 7 – Carers Assessments and Eligibility

Unsurprisingly, there will be a consolidation of duties under various carers’ legislation to provide a carers’ assessment. I’m shocked when I hear of the number of people who are not being offered carers’ assessments when they should always be as a matter of course. Hopefully, this will be an imagining of a long distant past.

The ‘cared-for’ person needs to have at least some social care needs for the carers assessment to be ‘triggered’ and not only ‘medical’ needs. This is a bit of a blind spot in my view but the document recognises this and feels that any changes made in regard to this have to be done as a matter of policy by the government.

The requirement to provide a carers assessment will though apply to any care provided and not be limited to those providing ‘substantial’ care as it is as at the moment.

It is proposed that rather than the carer needing to request an assessment, the local authority will have a duty to provide which is far better as I see it.

Part 8 Provision of Services

There is an discussion in this section about whether or not to define what ‘services’ actually are in the context of that which can be provided. It was felt by the commission that there should be some kind of list involved and that there was also a need to specify preferred outcomes of the provision of services. The list will take the form of categories of support in the context of those which will provide the desired outcomes.

The recommendation which explains it far better than I can annotate, explains

Community care services (however named) should be
defined in the statute as any of the following provided in accordance with the
well-being principle:
(1)  residential accommodation;
(2)  community and home-based services;
(3)  advice, social work, counselling and advocacy services; or
(4)  financial or any other assistance.

The statute should set out the following list of outcomes to which the wellbeing principle must be directed:

(1)  health and emotional well-being;
(2)  protection from harm;
(3)  education, training and recreation;
(4)  the contribution made to society; and
(5)  securing rights and entitlements

I actually really like the idea of including the outcomes. I think it adds significant clarity to the position and scope of provision of services overall.

It’s also interesting that social work services are seen as a discreet ‘service’ as opposed to advice, counselling and advocacy. I wonder if that is a shoe-in for a different type of social work with adults in the future. We can but hope.

Carers’ services will follow similar guidance as above.

A care/support plan must also be provided in written form for the user and carer (if necessary) that should include assessed needs, eligible needs and desired outcomes. I see in my future more paperwork but actually, if it is going to be an improvement, I’ll welcome it with open arms!

Direct payments will be retained in their current form and interestingly there is a proposal to introduce them to allow for payment for residential services.  I am not necessarily opposed to this however I do think there are some practical issues that are a concern. I’ll have to come back to this though in a post of its own!

None of the existing provisions for services that are being provided free of charge (for example those subject to s117 aftercare) will be affected by this and they will continue to operate in the current form.

Part 9 Adult Protection

There will be a specific role for the local authority to lead on safeguarding processes regarding adults at risk of being abused. In fact, the term ‘vulnerable adult’ will be replaced by the term ‘adult at risk’.  The document states:-

We, therefore, proposed that an adult at risk should be defined as a person aged 18 or over and who:
(1) is eligible for or receives any adult social care service (including carers’
services) provided or arranged by a local authority; or

(2) receives direct payments in lieu of adult social care services; or

(3) funds their own care and has social care needs; or

(4) otherwise has social care needs that are low, moderate, substantial or
critical; or

(5) falls within any other categories prescribed by the Secretary of State or
Welsh Ministers; and

(6) is at risk of significant harm, where harm is defined as ill treatment or the
impairment of health or development or unlawful conduct which
appropriates or adversely affects property, rights or interests (for
example theft and fraud).

Quite a broad definition but contrary to be beliefs of some, does not include everyone over 65!

Harm will be defined as

(1)  ill treatment (including sexual abuse, exploitation and forms of ill
treatment which are not physical);

(2)  the impairment of health (physical or mental) or development (physical,
intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural);

(3)  self-harm and neglect; or

(4)  unlawful conduct which adversely affects property, rights or interests
(for example, financial abuse).

but significant harm will be a judgement process.

Section 47 of the National Assistance Act will be repealed which is unsurprisingly and there will be another commission to look specifically at what it should be replaced by. This is, perhaps, where compulsory powers of entry will come in.

Adult Safeguarding Boards will be put on a statutory footing and there is some additional guidance on how they will operate.

The qualification that Guardianship can only be used for people with learning disabilities when there is abnormally aggressive or seriously irresponsible conduct’ will be removed which I think will allow for better protection for people with learning disabilities in the longer run.

The other sections of the report, I’ll cover very briefly

Part 10 Ordinary Residence and Portability

There is some clarification on the rules about residency in a particular authority and the principle of being able to take the assessment between different local authorities is, quite rightly, introduced.

Part 11 Overlap Issues

This part clarifies some of the areas where there are different pieces of legislation and particularly where there would be a crossover between health and social care issues but also with housing issues, forensic services and with childrens’ services.  There is some guidance about clarity regarding continuing care guidelines and how direct payments might work if they are extended into healthcare (which is likely).

It also recommends that adult social care teams can assess 16 and 17 year olds .

Part 12 Other issues

This includes a look at the right to advocacy which the report says should be retained as far as it already exists but not extended.

The local authorities will retain their registers of people who are blind and partially sighted and have discretionary powers to maintain other ‘registers’.

There will be a continued review about a proposed definition of ‘a disabled person’.

So that’s all! Well, it’s been interesting to read through. Generally it seems like a substantially positive review and I think it will improve the way that services are delivered and at least make it clearer. There are parts of the review I’d like to explore in more detail – particularly the safeguarding arrangements and some of the items in the overlap issues like continuing care but I’ll have to come back to them.

I’d be interested to hear other thoughts about the process!

The Future of Adult Social Work

I am running late for a training course that I haven’t finished the ‘pre-reading’ for yet – due to an unusually busy weekend (for all the good reasons which involve sunshine and basically being outside!).

But I thought it would be remiss not to mention the publication of the the ‘Future of Social Work in Adult Services’ document on Friday.

It’s a short document that clarifies some of the expectations and directions that will likely be taken in social work in the UK, drawing on the definition of Social Work given by the International Federation of Social Workers and then narrowing it down to not only a more UK centric focus but also an adult-centred perspective.

It is a fairly uncontroversial document that balances some of the future direction of the personalisation and transformation agendas – addressing some of the fears about the dilution of ‘social work’ and ‘social workers’ into unqualified posts where some of the expertise is reduced in order to reduce employment costs saying

Giving people control of their own resources and determining how their needs are met is transforming social services. Services are being personalised. Many people will want to organise all their supports and services themselves, based on good information. Others will want help from peers and user and carer led organisations. However, many will want social work to support them when they feel most vulnerable, to manage risks and benefits, and to build their self-esteem and aspirations so that they can take control or make difficult decisions.

This acknowledges the fear of some social workers about being pushed out of the role however I wonder how it tallies with the workload issues and the reassurances that certainly happened in my borough that some of the increased paperwork that is generated by self-directed support will be farmed to smaller advocacy services. It can’t work both ways – either the professional support is offered and time is allowed for it by management – or it is not offered and independent, voluntary sector advocacy services are employed (very well in most circumstances) and ‘social work’ tasks revolve around managing pieces of paper in an office. Not necessarily by a qualified professional.

The report also expands to explore other aspects of social work within specialist and multi-disciplinary teams. I admit to being concerned at a driving focus on community care legislation and directions but that doesn’t seem to be the case. It emphasises that

Social workers also have an important role in working with people whose rights may be undermined through abuse or neglect, or where the law requires some deprivation of liberty. Social workers can assess and manage risk and balance competing rights in order to protect those in need. Social workers make sure that legal action is taken only where necessary, for the shortest time and with the least restriction.

This distinct approach provides an important contribution to multi-disciplinary teams, to support better outcomes. It also complements the contribution of other professions. Social workers in multi-disciplinary teams bring a perspective of the whole person, rather than just their symptoms or circumstances. Seeing the individual in the context of their family, friends and community, and reflecting their hopes and fears for their own future is where social work can bring an important contribution to the work of the team.

The document needed to address social work as it stands within a legislative framework which often (although not exclusively) allows and demands that social workers play a role. For me, the key to my role as a social worker within a multi-disciplinary team is exactly to ensure that the ‘whole person’ is not lost in the background when the consideration of medical concerns are raised although to be fair, in my team, I would say we are very much pulling in the same direction and by no means would I say that the medics, nurses, OTs, psychologists think in any different way – however the training does shift the focus and I think it is a really important that a person who has not come through ‘medical training’ sits at the multi-disciplinary table.

The document also looks towards the future, setting out a few possible roles that will develop over time

Social Work and interpersonal support: With the development of information, advice and advocacy services, support planning and brokerage, there may be new roles for social workers alongside services led by people using services and their families. This may include services for people who fund their own social care.

Social work and safeguarding rights: Social work could have an important role in community development work and promoting social cohesion, for example where disabled, mentally ill or substance misusing people are victims of hate crime.

Social work with families: Social workers already help to break the cycle of families where generations of individuals are trapped in abusive relationships, crime, substance misuse, poor health, unemployment and other factors. Their role in this work could be strengthened to support the current priorities for local authorities to create safe, healthy and prosperous communities

All possibly interesting ways to go and perhaps each will form a post in its own right. All I will say at present from initial, swift reading of the document is that the its interesting (and very positive, in my mind) that social work with families moves into the broader context than simply being placed alongside ‘childrens’ services. Families are about more than that and without ways of working with and alongside adults, there can be no way of proactively protecting children. One of the reasons I always opposed separation and polarisation of ‘childrens’ training and ‘adults’ training – and ‘childrens’ services and ‘adults’ services.

I expect to read and reflect more on the document over the next week and/or months. In the meantime, it generally strikes me as a positive step. I just wonder why it took so long to come out!

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Are Social Work Lecturers out of touch?

This is a question which was raised by the Social Work Taskforce report and challenged by said lecturers in a Community Care article after the report suggested that there is an element of being ‘out of touch with current practice’.

When I was studying, and I’m going back roughly 10 years, there was a feeling that some – and by no means all – of the lecturers were trying to take a side-step away from direct practide as a concerted effort to free themselves from some of the day to day practide.

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Some unrealistic models were employed and the way we were taught certain issues did not relate to what we were learning from our placements.

It seems that this is still the case to a certain extent. Perhaps it is a feeling, from the ‘front-line’ that it is a ‘easy way out’ to revert to reams of research about issues that barely relate to some of the day to day practicalities and situations that are dealt with.

I know that my ex-university has made a step of taking on part-time lecturers who work in direct practice in the ‘other part’ of their jobs. I know because I’ve come across a few with their ‘social work practitioner’ hats on and we have chatted about their lecturing roles. It seems like a good way to inject some verve into the university teaching structures. From what I hear too, other universities are picking this model up which seems a little of the ‘best of both worlds’.

Sometimes from the front-line, it can seem as if some people are just too keen to get away from direct client experience as soon as they can – whether this is by taking a managerial post or by hiding behind the robes of academia.

I have always worked along the principle that I would not ask someone to do something that I am not willing to do for myself. It’s one of those lessons I picked up by doing the hands-on care work in a residential care home. I had more respect for those lecturers who have been through the mill and ‘served their time’ in social work teams for more than a couple of years, regardless of their current practice.

I don’t think direct and relevant practice experience is necessary in all modules or study areas. There are some parts of social work that don’t change and some that require a more academic base but I think a better course would have input from practitioners, even if it is on a visiting basis.

Social work as an academic discipline is very different from history, politics or philosophy. The motivation to study and to affect change in society is a key influencer in the development of the profession as a whole. I wonder if sometimes desk-based research can be seen as divorced from practice and that is why there is this divide.

Perhaps more integration of research into practice would be a way for front-line practitioners to see the benefits of engaging with university Social Work departments. For all I see it, and this is with a desire to engage as much as possible, any conferences, papers and research is delivered within and among the academic communities with little thought to how it might be disseminated outwards to the local authority offices and departments staffed with overworked, stressed workers who barely have a chance to read directly relevant proposals (New Horizons – which I have been carrying around in  my bag for a few days in an attempt to find some time to read!) let alone to take measure of the ‘research’ that takes place in these institutions.

That is why the lecturers can seem have a stymied view of practice.. it can seem a little like looking up into an ivory tower where knowledge shifts around from institution to institution in an attempt to inflate their egos and research budgets but if nothing filters down to direct practice, what is the worth in a discipline like Social Work.

Social Work Taskforce Reports

The final report of the Social Work Taskforce, set up to look at the profession as a whole, is published today. There are not going to be any surprises as there has been an interim report already and much discussion of its contents.

The Guardian reports more details about it and it seems to be a very positive move forward for the much maligned profession that has too often been a government pawn. Switched and swapped and chopped and changed to meet the needs of the policies of the political mood of the day, however, I  expect a lot of public sector workers can say the same.

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Back to the report itself though, again, Firstly, there is the introduction of a ‘licence to practice’. I haven’t seen too much of the detail about what this might involve along with the registration that already exists but it would mean a year in practice for newly qualified social workers before they achieve this ‘licence’ – presumably involving some kind of ongoing assessment to ensure that a sufficient standard is met. I’ve made my point many times on this matter. I think it is wholly positive as to rely on universities to produce fully-qualified and ‘ready to practice’ social workers has been a consistent failing of the current system. It also  puts social work more in line with other professions such as teaching and strengthens the quality of the profession as a whole.

Again, going back to the Guardian article, there will be no cap on caseloads but the introduction of some kind of monitoring system so that caseload numbers are managed. Personally, I think the ‘overworked’ issue isn’t simply a matter of numbers. If there is no effective caseload-weighting, the numbers make no sense. I’ve held caseloads of over 40 and caseloads in their teens – one might  not necessarily make me less overworked than the other if the complexities are not equivalent. Everyone working in the area will know that one extremely active case can be as busy as 10 bubbling along smoothly cases and so the numbers game doesn’t really work.

It seems that the emphasis on pay reform is being devolved to local authorities to work out career structure and link pay to training and career development. Although I’m relatively content with my pay, I accept I get paid more than the majority of social workers at my grade (non-management, non-senior) due to the London weighting and the higher pay that is usually commandeered in the Capital (because costs of living are higher – not for any more special or exclusive reasons) and the AMHP supplement – however the pay is a constant issue and whether we like it or not, just because it is a so-called ‘caring’ profession, does not mean that we should have to accept lower pay on that basis. There is an more interesting argument to be had about the traditional ‘female’ professions having lower pay on the basis of responsibility but this probably isn’t the place for it. Suffice to say if pay is to be addressed, that can only be a good thing.

As the article says

Employers will have to work with unions to reform social workers’ pay so that it reflects their career development and progression. Ministers will say that if this does not happen locally the government may introduce a national pay review body along the lines of those already in place for nurses, teachers and the prison service.

There is some mention of a practice-based Masters qualification. I hope that some consideration of the mash that is the current post-qualification framework is taken. It is easier to tie the post-qualification framework to academic qualifications perhaps but there are already routes to Masters’ level courses through practice-based qualifications. More streamlining perhaps and more flexibility. I never really liked that I had to make a choice between Adults and Mental Health as they run two different paths through the post-qualification system. The Foundation Trust have necessitated that I take a ‘Mental Health’ pathway when some aspects of the ‘Adult’ pathway such as ‘Personalisation’ and ‘Safeguarding Adults’ would be equally useful. I would prefer that we weren’t necessarily pigeon-holed. I do need more details on that aspect though.

The other issue brought up is the institution of a National College of Social Work. I know this has received some attention and Balls announced it at the weekend. Personally, I’d like to know what the remit is and how the interplay with BASW and the GSCC will ride with it. If the fees to be registered are to increase as the GSCC demands independence, and the College of whatever form it takes, will, no doubt, demand a fee payment as well as payments to BASW and a Trade Union (I know these are strictly speaking optional but I don’t see them as a choice!) we could be bombarded with costs to practice.

I’m sure there will be provision made for this and I like the idea of the National College but I would  like more detailed information about what it is. I expect that might come out as the day progresses.

So generally, it is hard to think of anything negative to say about the Taskforce report – not that I was looking for negativity of course. It seems a fairly broad, positive move to refocus social work. I think there is a lot more work to be done however, including at a ground level.