Carers Week – More than Words

Building Blocks of Art
‘Carers Week’ begins today. While the ‘official theme’ of the week is ‘In Sickness and In Health’ with a focus on the health of carers, I would provide my own theme from my position of having worked in social care for a fair few years as ‘more than words’.

Carers’ need more than accolades in order to feel supported and be supported properly. We need to be able to provide resources and that needs money.

Over the last 15 or so years, there have been definite changes in the status of ‘carers’ in social care organisations.  We have rolled out ‘Carers Assessments’  and have been able to provide services for carers directly as a result of new legislation. While we  assess the needs of carers – what we don’t have and where the disconnect exists – is a duty to provide services and nor national criteria about where a service should be and must be delivered.

The problem I face all too often is revolves around carrying out Carers’ Assessments (of course there is a target for these) but not being able to actually provide anything as a result of them. To which the obvious question I am asked is ‘Why do them if they only provide information to the Local Authority?’.  My local authority, fortunately and for now, at least, is fairly generous with carer support and direct services but this is by no means universal.

Mother watches over

I have been fortunate to see and provide some excellent services through direct payments made to carers and in a lot of ways, the services I have been responsible for providing as direct payments to carers have been a lot  more successful than some of my experiences with direct payments more broadly. I am able to encourage assessments with the possibility of a direct service provision as a result but I know this is by no means universal.

Assessments in themselves can be useful if they are conducted well and sensitively. Sometimes allowing a carer to have the space to discuss their own needs and explain fully the care they are and do provide and the effects that this has on their own wellbeing/goals and lives can be valuable – however there comes a point when this has to be acknowledged in a more ‘real’ (and yes, that can mean costs) way than smiling and nodding. More than words.

I’ve also seen an increase in the ‘posting a carers assessment out’ style of assessing which can lose some of the subtleties gained in a conversation and a visit. Of course, not everyone wants an assessment because the language and the questions can be formalised and particularly we get the ‘I’m not a carer, I’m a spouse/child/parent’ response but I’d counter that’s something that can be addressed by a change in the way of ‘paper assessment’ and the language and discourse models that exist around social care. Why can’t we be more flexible regarding what an assessment actually is? Do we have to ask the questions on the form?

We give, others receive but that’s a tired model – particularly in relation to carers who give us, as a service and organisation – much much more than we can ever give them.

So why is it reduced to a paper assessment logged onto a computer database? Because that allows performance indicators to be met.

My ideal service would be more flexible about the ways that assessments are compiled and would allow much more for free text and less on box ticking. Box ticking can help some clarify but it by no means captures what role caring plays in all lives. ‘Caring’ is not uniform. There are a myriad of needs and a myriad of ways to both communicate this need and for support to be delivered – or there should be. If people want boxes to tick, by all means provide them but if they want open space to discuss or write or record what and how they feel about their role and what might help, then allow that too.

We also (in social care) need to work on our assumptions a lot. Families exist in different ways and have different histories. There may be many reasons that don’t need to be disclosed about caring may be more difficult in particular situations and assumptions can be very damaging.

The new Adult Social Care White Paper is imminent, apparently. There needs to be a commitment not just to assessments of carers but of delivery of services and support to carers. More than words.

While the government talks about ‘respite’ and the need for breaks, I’d argue that is essential but while the provision of services is being cut and there are fewer, more distant places to offer respite the realities will remain as far from the government planning as they are at present. Capital investment and investment in decent staffing in homes that offer respite consistently would help. Clear explanations about entitlements and potential costs would help. Services that speak to each other would help. Pooled budgets would help but the easy words come thick and fast. The solutions can’t be found by words alone.

The current system as it exists relies on carers significantly to ease the burden of cost of the social care system. This needs to be more transparent in terms of publishing details of how indicative personal budgets are arrived at and the amount that is ‘saved’ by a carer. If some of these ‘savings’ (not even a minute proportion – but some ) is ploughed back into effective and personalised support with professionals who are able to access and feedback good, local information and provide support and training to carers where they want it the savings over the long term would be much higher.

The cost of poor support for carers is much much higher than the cost of good support – but in these times of ‘belt-tightening’ it can be forgotten while we reach the goals of short term savings.

It’s a lesson that both the NHS and social care systems would be mindful to heed.

In order to support carers ‘In Sickness and In Health’ the government, the organisations such as the NHS and local authorities, employers and communities needs to provide ‘more than words’.

Images by W4nd3rl0st at Flickr and Sapphiren at Flickr

It’s Not News That Fostering Is Under Pressure

Al Murray’s news-based Sunday radio show on 5Live has a running gag where the panellists read out prominent items from the past week that are not surprising in the least. After each, he adopts an urgent cod-announcer style and bellows, ‘Not News!’ Katy Price might have a new relationship, Big Brother contestant seeks publicity, Camilla’s wearing a hideous hat: you get the picture. Shout out the catchphrase after every paragraph in this piece. Fostering Fortnight, the biggest event in fostering calendar, finished recently and frankly, nothing’s happened. It works for me.

Fostering Fortnight is a series of events to celebrate fostering and foster carers. It presents a positive view of being a carer with the dual aims of valuing those who have already discovered their vocation and attracting new recruits to fill the growing shortage of foster homes. It’s run by the Fostering Network, a charity representing the interests of carers all over the United Kingdom. This year they’ve done an excellent job, with relevant and well-timed research attracting the media’s attention alongside the heart-warming human interest stories beloved by daytime TV, climaxing with a glittering reception proudly showcasing the achievements of children and young people in care.

Children’s Minister Tim Loughton made the keynote speech. Whilst he covered a considerable amount of ground, a couple of weeks on there’s no evidence that anything much has happened. Those of us waiting for a significant initiative from the government or at the very least some leadership to take us forward were sorely disappointed. He made some eminently sensible suggestions about improving day to practice, the level at which much can be accomplished as any regular reader of my blogs will know. Reminding authorities that they should delegate more decision-taking responsibility to foster carers (something Loughton has enthusiastically supported) will improve the lives of children and young people in care, giving them the same social opportunities as their peers. Criticising the risk averse climate in decision-making is music to my ears. A drive for employers to provide fostering leave is an excellent idea and the Department are working to ensure the benefits system, including housing benefit, does not discriminate against carers. We also have familiar favourites, the ‘streamlining’ of the assessment process and introducing greater ‘flexibility’ into the placement process cuddling up to old friends like ‘unnecessary and harmful bureaucracy.’

As I say, much of this is valuable. However, the expected and trailed ‘big announcement’ did not materialise. Normally that wouldn’t unduly bother me -it’s what carers and practitioners do that counts – but fostering is facing perhaps its biggest ever challenge over the next few years and it needed a helping hand from government. In its absence, I’m left only with confirmation that fostering remains the poor relation of the care system.

Adoption has dominated the government’s agenda over the past year or so, which I’ve covered in previous posts. Loughton acknowledged as much in his speech but failed to redress the balance. The examples he gave like the Foster Carers Charter have been around for a long time and the earth hasn’t moved.

Fostering is about the skilled preparation of children and young people for the future. This can be a return to their birth family and fostering itself as well as adoption. Many young people may not wish to be adopted and also evidence shows fostering provides a successful alternative in offering stable permanence and improved life-chances, yet the perception remains that the government (not necessarily Loughton himself) sees fostering as a sort of holding area, the lounge where you rest after passing through security and checking your baggage before rushing onto the plane, the means of reaching your destination.

There are powerful reasons why the government must give a strong lead. This debate takes place within a context of the growing numbers of children and young people being taken into care outstripping the supply of new foster places, especially ones where the complexity of children’s issues can be fully addressed. I advocate an ongoing government advertising campaign for foster carers along the lines of the long-running and successful initiative to recruit teachers. Current means and methods are not enough.

Then we have inertia within hard-pressed cash-strapped local authorities. I have every sympathy but the means of change has been there for some time without there being sufficient action. Take delegated authority. It’s the jargon for enabling carers to take day to day decisions for children and young people like whether they can have a sleepover, go on a school trip, see certain friends or take part in activities where a consent form is required. Normal parenting in other words. Ask any young person in care and they would say the need to call the social worker each and every time is the single biggest impediment to being like their peers. Backed by legislation that came into force in April 2011, the decision-taking authority should now be delegated by agreement to carers and the FN have produced a spot-on format to enable this.

Nothing is happening. Not quite true, of course, but the risk averse culture is so embedded in senior management that many authorities seem hell-bent on retaining responsibility for these decisions, regardless of the fact that children are unhappy, carers exasperated and under-valued and already busy social workers embroiled in tasks others could and should take from them. In fact, the welcome legislation is nevertheless not a radical departure from the guidance that existed before April 2011. It wasn’t implemented then because of the risk averse culture and nothing significant has altered.

Finally, I’ve come across an increasing number of examples from several authorities where the much vaunted ‘streamlining’ means assessments are being rushed and the ‘flexibility’ over placements means foster homes are more crowded than ever as age and placement criteria are being stretched to fulfil demand. This is a natural consequence of fewer resources caused by spending cuts and growing demand as the threshold for coming into care shifts.

It’s not news, however, that this does not contribute to better childcare. Children are given what is available, not what they need. Carers are pressurised to go beyond their areas of preference and expertise. Carers are great, they don’t want to say ‘no’, they want to help, but to do so they require support from us professionals, which is not the case if we take shoddy resource-driven placement decisions. Above all, children’s needs are not being met. Far from addressing the problems, I fear we are merely storing up worse for the future.

KM v Cambridgeshire: the Supreme Court’s decision is not about assessment

“I’m just hoping that after tomorrow the link between value of cash payment and cost of meeting need is not utterly broken!”

…I tweeted yesterday, contributing to a debate about our hopes and expectations for today’s Supreme Court ruling in KM, R (on the application of) v Cambridgeshire County Council 2012] UKSC 23 (31 May 2012). This blog is about that case. I’m pleased to say that my hopes have been fulfilled. But I had set my sights low. I am utterly bemused by some of the other claims being made for this judgement.

Community Care: three key questions

Adult Community Care issues can generally be boiled down to three questions:

  • Assessment: deciding what needs should be met
  • Funding: deciding who is going to contribute what to the cost
  • Delivery: deciding how the needs are going to be met

The KM case was about direct payments, so where do direct payments fall to be considered? Answering that question is key to understanding this judgement. Although direct payments involve the flow of money between local authority and service user, they are not about how the package is funded. And although there are tools to determine how much a direct payment should be, these need have little to do with assessment of eligible need. Direct payments are, pure and simple, one of a number of ways of delivering a service.

What the Supreme Court said about assessment

To be fair, the Supreme Court said a fair bit about how to assess eligible need:

  • It set out the legal framework (paragraph 11ff);
  • It affirmed that the statutory guidance ‘Prioritising Need in the Context of Putting People First’ gets the framework right (paragraph 16);
  • It reaffirmed that once a local authority has determined eligible need, it must meet that need (paragraph 21);
  • It decided not to revisit the case of Barry, which held that resources could taken into account during the assessment process (paragraph 43);
  • It decided that the assessment of eligible need in KM’s case was not irrational (paragraph 38).

What the Supreme Court did not do is say anything new. It certainly said nothing that would turn a previously ineligible need into an eligible need. And therefore it said nothing that would turn someone who was previously ineligible into someone who is elible.

And therefore I am bemused by the Guardian headline, ‘Court ruling means thousands more disabled people could get access to care‘.

Where the RAS fits in: service delivery

Roughly, local authorities have three possible approaches to delivering the services to meet eligible need. One is to deliver it directly. One is to commission someone else to deliver it. And one is to allow the service user to commission services themselves.

It is here that the RAS fits in. Essentially, the RAS is a tool used in the process of converting eligible need into a cash value, so that the service can be delivered in cash instead of in kind.

Though this is hardly a secret, I am very cynical abut the RAS. Not only is it a tool used to convert eligible need into a cash value, but it is used to obscure the process. In theory, there is a scientific basis. The RAS uses an algorithm. According to that reputable source, Wikipedia,

“Algorithms are essential to the way computers process data. Many computer programs contain algorithms that detail the specific instructions a computer should perform (in a specific order) to carry out a specified task… Thus, an algorithm can be considered to be any sequence of operations that can be simulated by a Turing-complete system.”

Sounds scientific? But according to Luke Clements (2011) ‘A Sideways Look at Personalisation and Tightening Eligibility Criteria’ in Elder Law 1 pp47-52, along the way, “any science in the process is jettisoned in favour of witchcraft.” The computer does the sums, but what the end result has to do with the original assessment of need is anyone’s guess.

Remember, there are two other ways of delivering services. They can be delivered directly, in which case the local authority must have a fairly good idea how the service delivery meets the eligible need. Or the local authority can commission directly, in which case it will also know how much it costs to meet the eligible need.

It is ironically only when the service user is commissioning their own services that the algorithm – or witchcraft – which obscures the link between the eligible need and the cost of meeting it comes into its own.

Back to KM v Cambridgeshire

KM had his needs assessed. He was seeking direct payments to meet those needs. He has considerable disabilities. Cambridgeshire used the RAS, then another algorithm called the Upper Banding Calculator. Then it jiggled about with the figures a little bit more. Ultimately he was offered £85,000 per annum. But he thought he should get £157,000 per year.

That is a big difference. But was the dispute about what his needs were (i.e. the assessment), or was it about what it would cost to meet them (i.e. the service delivery)?

Here’s the simple answer: Cambridgeshire was so effective at obscuring its decision making process that KM couldn’t tell what the dispute was about. The Supreme Court criticizes Cambridgeshire for three things:

  • Failing to be open about its assessment of the mother’s contribution to care (paragraph 30);
  • Failing to be open about its rejection of the independent social worker’s assessment (paragraph 34); and
  • Failing to explain how it arrived at its own sum (paragraph 35)

It would be correct to characterize this case as being ultimately about transparency and not about assessment or resources.

So is the case good news for service users at all?

A brief history of transparency

Having dismissed the notion that thousands will become eligible, having highlighted that the case says nothing new about assessment, having said ultimately it was just about transparency, is it just a storm in a teacup?

No! It is well worth remembering where we were at before:

In Savva, R (on the application of) v Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea [2010] EWHC 414 (Admin) (11 March 2010), the high court upheld the principle of transparency:

“without being able to properly understand the use made of the RAS, the service user and anyone acting on her behalf, is left totally in the dark as to whether the monetary value… is adequate to meet the assessed need… The process of conversion made by the Panel is not explained to the service user. It should have been underpinned by an evidential base, and it was not.”

And as I commented at the time,

“What is being said is that there is a duty to give effect to the rhetoric, and actually demonstrate how the cash payment is adequate to meet assessed need. If the duty to give reasons goes that far, it may help to ensure that the cash payments actually do link to assessed need. Which in turn may undermine the approach of ‘Points mean Prizes’, and defer the day when a computer programme completely replaces the social worker.”

The judgements in KM’s case in both the High Court and the Court of Appeal below were bad news for transparency, and therefore bad news for anyone like me who wants a link between the cost of meeting need and the value of the cash payment. In KM, R (on the application of) v Cambridgeshire County Council [2010] EWHC 3065 (Admin) (26 November 2010), the Court said this:

“[The Claimant] criticises the Defendant for failing to provide an explanation setting out the services required to meet the Claimant’s needs. That appears to me to be a complete misunderstanding of the system of self-directed support. Both the RAS and the Upper Banding Calculator, compared as they were with the assessment and operated using the skill and experience of social workers, were assessment of needs and not services but the RAS was a tool for translating needs into a sum which was adequate to provide the services for those needs by reference to the average costs of the provision by the authority of meeting those needs for other disabled people.”

Upholding this decision last year, in KM, R (on the application of) v Cambridgeshire County Council [2011] EWCA Civ 682 (09 June 2011), the Court of Appeal observed that, “There does not need to be a finite absolute mathematical link” between payment and need.

In short, the history of this case is a history of judicial approval of algorithms and witchcraft, of obfuscation and lack of transparency. The beauty of today’s ruling, the reason I can consider it a victory, is that it reaffirms Savva on the need for transparency. Particularly poignant is the observation in paragraph 36:

“that a local authority’s failure to meet eligible needs may prove to be far less visible in circumstances in which it has provided the service-user with a global sum of money than in those in which it has provided him with services in kind. That point fortifies the need for close scrutiny of the lawfulness of a monetary offer.”

Or to put it another way, it is concerning that it is too easy to use direct payments to obscure potentially unlawful cuts that would be quite obvious if they were delivered or commissioned directly.

The RAS should still go!

The RAS has survived another level of challenge, see paragraph 26. But I still think it should go.

The argument in defence of the RAS in paragraph 24 of the judgement is:

“To set about costing each of the services identified in answer to the question at the [eligible need] stage upon, as it were, a blank sheet of paper would be unacceptably laborious and expensive. So a mechanism has been devised in order to give the exercise a kick-start. It is called a Resource Allocation System (a “RAS”); and many authorities, including Cambridgeshire, have developed one for their own use.”

I am resolutely unconvinced. If we can cost the services to meet the needs on a blank sheet of paper when we need to commission them, then we can cost them on a blank sheet of paper when the service user is going to commission them.

If the RAS is only “the generator of a “ball-park” figure, subject to adjustment up or down” (paragraph 26), then it is a wholly unnecessary extra step rather than a kick start to the calculation.

This is the heart of my concern. Arriving at a cash value of need by generating the starting figure by computer and the final figure by magic is not the most simple way of doing it, it is the most complicated. @TheSmallPlaces has shown in a series of blogs how local authorities actually value the complexity of the process:

In this, the Supreme Court got it wrong. It was right to approve clear and transparent reasons. It was wrong to approve the RAS as simplifying the process. The RAS is the very antithesis of clear and transparent reasons. In this case, it helped to obscure not only the reason for the sum itself, but also disputes about the assessment. It should go.

Allan Norman (@CelticKnotTweet) is a registered social worker and a solicitor at Celtic Knot – Solicitors and Social Workers.

What makes residential care good?

I was asked this morning on Twitter what I felt made a ‘good care’ in a residential home. Sometimes it’s hard to elaborate in 140 characters so thought it would be useful to explain my thoughts in a little longer form.

I’ve worked in social care for a number of years, either as a care worker/support worker in a couple of residential homes (and as a ‘bank’ carer in even more) and as a social worker in adult and mental health services.

I’ve been into a lot of residential care homes and I’ve seen massively varying standards  from the home the time I left a home with such heavy concerns that I left a message for the CQC inspector on my way back to the office to the homes I would both be happy to live in myself and would be happy for any of my family members needing care to move into immediately.

So how do I judge what is ‘good’ (and these aren’t necessarily in order!) – especially in the time limited fashion that often involves me walking in and out in an afternoon.

Culture – which can be hard to quantify but you know it when you see it. From the decor and the welcome you receive when you walk in or when you call on the phone to the small interactions you might see in the lounge area and the amount and type of items you might see. Is the lounge empty except for a few paperbacks that look untouched and are mostly large saga-type romances with little variety? Are the (as there was in a home I went to earlier this week) lines of VHS videos stacked up next to the TV? (without a video recorder, incidently)? These things show care, or lack of it to the details.

Feedback – I listen to people who use the services. Communication can be at different levels and there are sometimes people in care settings who don’t want to be there but often users respond to kindness and listening to the feedback of those who use the services and family/friends who visit is vital to understanding the quality of the service. Of course, it’s useful to read the official reports but they are so rare now and often out of date – while issues around quality of care can change quickly, that we need to look in other areas and understanding how well homes respond to individuals and their needs, wishes and wants is fundamental.

Staff – How am I greeted, that’s one this but more importantly are the interactions I see between staff and residents and not necessarily the residents I’m there to visit. Is there eye contact, is there any touch involved? Are the staff sitting in the lounges responding in conversation rather than requesting things are done/not done? Is there any interaction between residents? How is this facilitated? What is the staff turnover like? I might ask the member of staff showing me round how long they have been working there, do they enjoy it? Often they’ll say yes, anyway, but sometimes you get a glimmer of something else.

Size – I have an issue with stacking up older adults in large residential homes in a way that we wouldn’t in other user groups. We have residential and nursing homes now with 50+, 90+ residents. There can be good care in these places but are they ‘homely’? Are they able to meet individual needs? Or is it a hark back to institutionalisation and long stay hospital type settings. It feels like it is about cost and age discrimination. I would be happy to care delivered in small settings. Large doesn’t necessarily mean bad and small doesn’t necessarily mean good but do we really think there is a justification for 100 bed ‘units’ in the current day. The only justifications are cost and economies of scale. I don’t think that’s good enough.

Individualised responses – are the residents individuals? Can they pursue different activities if they don’t want to sing music hall songs? What if I resident moves in who prefers Led Zeppelin to Knees up Mother Brown (real story, incidently!). What if they wanted to do things or go places that weren’t on the ‘programme’? Yes, individualisation can cost but it doesn’t need to – it can be able to things that don’t necessarily raise a charge. How is this done? I want examples in every home of how individual needs are met.

Those are some of my initial thoughts. I’d welcome thoughts from others about what and how they make judgements about what good care in a residential setting involves.

Thanks for Bill Mumford for inspiring me to write!

Adoption Reform Isn’t Just Common Sense

Around 18 months ago, I offered some consultation to a small project that planned to set up activity days where children in care met prospective adopters. Last week I saw a DVD of the first event. There was no sense of the controversy that surrounds these so-called adoption parties. Children, their social workers and adopters mingled happily during the course of a day’s outdoor activity and lunchtime entertainment. The adults acknowledged some awkwardness from their respective standpoints but all agreed this was outweighed by the positive experience, not only of meeting children but also of feeling part of something larger and important.  All valued the careful preparation that had preceded the event.

Seven children were subsequently matched and two more were in the pipeline. One, a severely disabled young girl, had been waiting almost as long as the project had taken to reach fruition. On the day, some carers met her, a real person now rather than a case or a prognosis, and an emotional bond began to form. In the carer’s words, “We just clicked.”

It’s an innovative approach not without its risks and detractors and it’s not right for everyone, but it worked. Other opportunities could and should exist for finding more carers for siblings, disabled children or black children, where shortages of adopters exist. Or just for children full stop. Yet the government is not supporting such practice-based local measures in favour of grander solutions to address long-standing problems in the adoption system.

There’s no doubt that something has to be done and the government’s drive for action comes from the very top. Michael Gove has taken the lead and adoption reform is one of Cameron’s top ten priorities in the life of his term of office. Those in the profession who are involved can barely keep up with the breakneck pace of consultation meetings and unpredictably changing policy drafts.

The result – everything is going to be quicker, including the point at which children are taken into care. The headline news was one measure in particular, that culture and ethnicity is to be of secondary importance to finding a good home. The announcements were accompanied by powerful and moving testimonies from parents who had successfully adopted children from a culture different from their own. Those who have not had such a positive experience were conspicuous by their absence, although articles did emerge as the days went on.

Whatever your views, it’s disconcertingly easy for the evidence of the lasting effects of culture and background to be shunted into the sidings in favour of the ‘common sense’ conclusion that children are better off in a home than they would be in care, regardless of the consequences later in life.  The seductive comfort of common sense in adoption provides a measure of security and sanctity for almost everyone involved in the adoption process, except for the child who has to deal with this, now and for the rest of their life, and has nowhere to hide.

Many decisions about what constitutes a cultural match are absurdly arcane and are based not on a proper understanding of the child’s history and perceptions of their own identity but on a skewed, mechanistic process that equates ‘culture’ to a sum of their parents’ ancestry and distorts complex reality as much as the common sense approach. I’ve come across siblings who waited and waited because their maternal grandparents were Polish and no white family was considered unless that box was ticked, or black prospective adopters rejected because they lived in an area of London that was predominantly white.

Of course there is some truth behind the government’s apparent wish to relegate culture and background to a minor role. The remedy, however, isn’t an arbitrary shift based on ideology and expediency. Rather, it is about better practice, better assessments and a more preceptive insight into the subtleties of identity. This in turn leads to improved matching, including both an acceptance that perfection is not possible every time but also what does and does not constitute an acceptable deviation from the vital principle of a cultural match, what the evidence is for such a conclusion and how this will be handled, now and in future. None of this is encouraged by the proposals.

Which brings me on to two other problems that I have with the government’s suggested reforms. One is that it views carers as static and unchanging, rather than individuals who can learn, develop and grow into the task of being an adoptive parent. How might they develop, what is their potential and how can this be nurtured? And here’s point two, the thorny question of more post-adoption support, which adopters’ organisations will passionately say is the biggest problem we have at the moment, as opposed to dog assessments or paperwork that the government would prefer to focus on. Both these suggestions, extra training and support post-adoption, taken together require considerable extra funding, so they are not a priority.

Of more interest is the idea that children can be placed with their prospective adopters and effectively fostered until the order goes through. This could make transitions easier and create less change for children. However, it is not without its problems. As Adoption UK point out, adopters want to do just that, adopt. The fact that children may have contact with the birth family while they wait or may be removed if the order does not go through could act as a deterrent to carers coming forward.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, the proposals appear to take little account of the court process. Changes are in the pipeline but parents and members of the extended family will still have the opportunity to prove they are a worthy alternative to adoption. These issues and the time-consuming and resource draining assessments that accompany them can delay an adoptive placement extremely effectively.

I desperately want the system to make good placements for children and young people, and to make more of them. It’s needed now more than ever before. My fear is that the complexity of meeting the needs of vulnerable children hopeful for a stable future will become lost amidst the targets, league tables and rhetoric.

 

 

Care Quality?

Another day, another report. This time, Which? has done some undercover work into the quality of homecare delivered to older adults as reported by the Guardian.

The team at Which? asked 30 families to make notes and diaries over a week in January and feed back the information, some of it is horrifying but the sad thing is that it doesn’t shock or even surprise me. That’s the real shame of the system.

One elderly woman was left alone in the dark for hours unable to find food or drink. Another was left without a walking frame, leaving her unable to get to the bathroom, while one man was not given vital diabetes medication, the watchdog said.

Which? has not named the agencies which I feel is wrong. I hope they are going straight to the Care Quality Commission (CQC)  with this information because for a consumer organisation which is supposed to be behind us as consumers of care services (oh, it’s coming in health care too – just wait) I’m surprised they feel they need to protect the names of those companies involved.

The reason they do is that those companies will not be removed from their positions of providing care to those who have been subject to institutional abuse such as that meted out in the examples given, because yes, this is institutional abuse.

These companies are probably tied into long term extensive contracts with local authorities than are bound in law and allow for a certain level of ‘default’ that makes them difficult to replace.

So what should and can be done?

1) However admirable Which? is, the fact that we have to rely on  Which? and Panorama to do the job of council quality assurance teams and more importantly the Care Quality Commission is not acceptable.

2) Embedding advocacy into the system far more fully. These people monitored were the ones who had families to complete the diaries. What about those people without families particularly those who may have cognitive impairments. We have to replicate the ‘checking’ role that involved families have to those who don’t have family support and for me I see that as happening through greater advocacy.

3) Commissioning (again, apologies to Guilty Commissioner who I know does things differently). The people who buy into and commission these block contracts aren’t the people who use them. They award on the basis of cost where quality has to have a greater impact on quality of life and quality of care provision.

4) Politicians. People go to their MPs about Forests but not about social care. The people who need the changes aren’t the people who are most likely to be politically active and that’s why this area has slipped so far down the political agenda. Politicians of worth need to advocate for electors who might not be clamouring at their surgery doors. They need to think of those who may be disenfranchised and take the advocacy and representation role more seriously to affect change.

Let’s hope we stop seeing these reports soon but i remain sceptical.

Is Adult Social Care Broken? And what can and will fix it.

FIX

Over the past few weeks, oh, who am I kidding, over the past few years, I’ve been pondering the way that adult social care is structured in this country from the position of having worked in this area over a number of years. I have seen many changes but anyone who has been involved in social care for more than a year could probably say the same. If there’s one thing that is sure about statutory social work/social care, it’s that the next reconfiguration or improvement is just around the corner.

In my renewed spirit of positivity though, I thought it would be worth reflecting personally on some of the changes I have worked through and look at some of the directions we are going with a thought to what I would do if I were in a policy-making position rather than the position of a front-line practitioner.

So I entered social work in the shadow of the changes pushed through by the NHS and Community Care Act (1990). We were moving from ‘social work’ into care management and this was going to be an improvement for those who used the services as local authorities were going to be contracting out/selling off their own centrally run and ‘inflexible’ services to new, private and voluntary sector providers who would be far more flexible about meeting the needs of individuals.

When I think back to those heady days, the ideas weren’t so different to the ways that the personalisation agenda was presented. Direct Payments were just about to start but the idea was that care would be planned by a care manager to put the service user at the heart of the process and more interesting, more exciting and more specialist services would be commissioned for the same ‘pot of money’.

We were also sold talk of community involvement rather than segregration – gyms instead of day centres –  but the day centres remained and the processes weren’t flexible enough to allow the choices that should have been there.

So Direct Payments were introduced, first as an option and then as a right. They led from the ILF (Independent Living Fund) model of giving mostly younger adults (because you had to be under 65 to qualify for ILF) with physical disabilities a pot of money and a choice of employing a PA directly.

Quite rightly, this model was seen as positive and there were attempts to spread this more widely to all user groups. The take up was much higher in some user groups than others, strangely (I’m being ironic – bear with me) related to access to greater ‘pots’ of money or more informal support.

There has also been a massive push and development of carer services. It might not seem it to those who devote themselves to caring for family members or friends but there are now statutory rights to assessments and increasingly service provisions directly for carers.

And so we moved through to the Putting People First agenda of pushing the right to a personal budget for care services to everyone who uses and is eligible to support.

It is the right direction absolutely. Increasingly choice and control for social care packages is and must remain at the heart of social care provision for adults in the UK but there are genuine practical problems.

Firstly that too often councils have just shifted people who have been more difficult to engage in the process of choosing in the way the LAs want them to choose onto ‘managed’ budgets where the LA implements the care for the user and essentially makes the choices for them leaving very little different.

Secondly, the provision of 24 hour residential and nursing care has been lost in the push towards choice. It feels a lot like an poorly regulated afterthought when actually provision of residential and nursing care can be the most important decision in someone’s life and affects life quality absolutely.

Thirdly and by no means lastly, funding issues.

There is not enough money to pay for good quality care services for all who need it so the decisions are made about who will pay and how they will pay. The Dilnot report offers some potential solutions, personally, I don’t think it goes far enough.

The fact is that people don’t want to pay for care. They don’t want to pay for care related to health needs. People believe it is a right to receive care free. But that isn’t the case. Care costs and it is means-tested.

The postcode lottery comes into its own here with charging policies varying massively. On the ‘ground level’ I know people I assess and review are increasingly refusing care I feel they desperately need purely on the basis of cost. This shifts costs from self and social care onto health in the future, but at least health costs are free to the individual.

The Future

Personal budgets are not going anywhere and must be embraced and embraced positively as they are supposed to be. We must look past some of the cynical ‘target fixing’ of the local authorities who want to prove they are doing better on ‘choice’ and really adopt a strong advocacy role in using them the way they were intended to do and keep pushing and pushing until they deliver the promised change in terms of outcomes for all users of adult social care rather than relying on a few old examples. They must work but they also must work better.

Charging policies must change and this is in the offing. While I don’t agree 100% with the Dilnot recommendations, it is better than what we have. We need transparent and equitable methods to fund social care that don’t regard the sector as an afterthought.

Promotion of advocacy to all user groups who don’t have informal networks and particularly to those who may have issues with capacity is essential to back up and check on progress of professionals and local authorities who have different budgetary agendas. We have to offer support to challenge on an equitable basis.

Our systems have to be more flexible, as professionals within local authorities we have to have access to different styles of commissioning that include micro-providers. We have to have access to different communication formats and promote more interactive feedback using more technology to those who find it more useful while backing up with face to face contact, discussion and feedback for those who don’t.

Our world is becoming more fragmented as we have more access to information sources and accept that people cannot be defined merely by needs identified in traditional style assessments. We have self assessments now but they are more similar to DLA forms based on ability to wash and dress rather than building holistic pictures of who and what someone is. That is what is needed. Yes, it will be labour intensive but we need to find more value in quality and more value in the individual.

Where will be money come from to do this and to make these changes? Well, I think that better quality and treating people as human beings has so many longer term benefits regarding outcomes that it will be a saving and not   just in value but in quality of life.

Is the system broken? In parts. But the people who work in the system aren’t and nor are the people who use and need it. We need to build it back up together. Co-production has to be the answer.

These are exciting times for adult social care – lets build a positive from too many negatives and make things better.

Photo by Amanky/Flickr

Care Lobby 2012

Londra - The House of Parliament e il Big Ben
Today there will be a lobby and representation made to Parliament by the Care and Support Alliance – which is an umbrella organisation of a number of charities and representative groups for people with disabilities, illnesses and their carers.

The Care and Support Alliance is campaigning to change the current system of care which exists, claiming there is a ‘care crisis’ which needs fixing and is pushing the government to act on Dilnot’s proposals to change the system of funding for social care.

There is much that needs to be changed – not least the funding of care which at the moment is very dependent on location. It is a postcode lottery of funding in every sense of the word with different local authorities having very different systems which creates a very extrinsic ‘unfairness’.

But there is  more that needs to be changed than just creating a more equitable national system of payments for care. There is much about the way care is delivered, commissioned and organised that needs changing too.

There needs to be an improvement not just of the quality of care that is delivered but the quality of support that is offered to families of people who have care needs. While the government can have as many meetings about improving dignity in care as they like, these reports will all sound the same unless they do more to change the fundamental way that services are financed and delivered. Currently pushing costs between health and social care is detrimental to those who need support from both and until there is both better integration of budgets and greater attention to the fundamental needs of

I am very much in support of the Lobby today. For those who are not able to take part in person (like me, as I’ll be at work), there are ways to take part and show support online both on Facebook and Twitter.

Everyone needs to push on this point. We have to actively engage with the government to show them how much this matters and how much it matters that social care is important as a political issue. Health and Social Care are intrinsically connected and money pushed between one and the other without proper systems will cost more to both but not much in money, in quality and length of life, in stress and distress to those who need care and those who provide it.

The government has to act. Please join the Lobby or the #Twobby to make our voices heard together.

photo: Gengish/Flickr

Will Adult Social Care Reform Stall?

younger hand and older hand

The Health and Social Care Bill currently limping through Parliament is a mess. Even though I try to take an active interest in its progress, even as someone who is desperately concerned and involved (working, as I do, in an NHS team), I lose heart at trudging my way through some of the details which have been changed, adjusted and repackaged beyond the level of human (oh, ok, maybe it’s just me!) comprehension.

I was baffled though by this piece which turned up on the Guardian website yesterday.

Announcing that Lansley, having been stung and having lost credibility as his health reforms (hopefully) hit the buffers, is going to be delaying his announcement of reform in social care.
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A Dignity Code for Older People?

Old hands

The Daily Telegraph today prints a letter which sets out the need for a ‘Dignity Code’ in Health and Social Care calling on Hospitals, Care Homes and other institutions to prevent ‘issues of abuse and neglect’.

The article accompanying the letter, the Telegraph says, will encourage care workers to have this code written into their contract.
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