The ‘Red Tape Challenge’ does Health and Social Care

Red Tape

We all knew it would come in time. This wonderful government idea to slash all that awful ‘red tape’ that stops people doing what the government otherwise would stop them doing finally arrives at Health and Social Care.

I had a brief look at some of the provisions detailed as ‘red tape’ for which the government is asking for comment and quite frankly, I am horrified.

What I might see as essential protections, they are presenting as ‘red tape’ and asking for feedback about potential abolition.

This is a consultation so it’s really important that as many people as possible to contribute and in the joyful spirit of openness, the website allows up to see the live commenting on others. I wonder how those with less technological access or knowledge are able to comment quite so openly about some of the provisions up in the air.

But openness and accessibility only seems to go so far and for the government departments responsible they seem to be after whipping up public distaste of ‘red tape’ although actually, we really do need to move from the idea that bureaucracy is necessarily bad.

There is a separate website entirely to focus on ‘ regulatory enforcement’ and where it might be unnecessary.I feel robust regulation (and thus, enforcement which has to follow as a result) is essential. The big problem with social care and health regulation since the CQC was established was the ‘light touch’ type approach which had been taken and the ‘back office’ regulation and not enough enforcement.  I really really hope that it is not cut back further. I want to see more regulation and stronger enforcement, not less of it.

But back to the ‘red tape challenge’. I want to share some of the provisions ‘up for discussion’ that the government has classed as ‘red tape’.  I’m solely concentrating on what is up under ‘Quality of Care and Mental Health Regulations’ as I felt that was the area I knew best. The numbers refer to the list of these ever so demanding provisions in the Excel list here.

39 is that oh so burdensome (!!!) regulation that requires the Care Quality Commission ‘to monitor and access for monitoring purposes, people who are deprived of their liberty’ and necessity to report this to the Department of Health.

40 is a nice one about requiring people ‘who assess Deprivation of Liberty’ to have an enhanced CRB.  – clearly unnecessary because.. er.. people who lack capacity and may potentially be subject to DoLs aren’t likely to be vulnerable, right? I think there’s an issue about effectiveness of CRBs in general but a bit worrying that that’s considered ‘red tape’.

43 is much more worrying as it is the obvious ‘red tape’ which introduced IMCAs as a safeguard for ‘those who have noone to speak on their behalf’ making them mandatory in abuse and review situations. RED TAPE??

55 is another ‘good one’ which ensures that IMHAs are ‘of an adequate standard’ because clearly, that is unnecessary (!?!)

Obviously there are many many more – I’ve just, for reasons of time, picked out a few that interest me personally but do have a look at them and COMMENT.

I’m frankly insulted that some of these provisions are even considered to be ‘red tape’  but as there’s an open consultation, it’s important that as many people as possible who know and understand the implications of removing them, to contribute.

If the government want to know what ‘red tape’ is in terms of adding unnecessary burdens, I’ll gladly explain about how useful (or not) it is to spend time recording how much time I spend on ‘smoking cessation’ work or time spent ‘clustering’ people according to diagnosis into tiny little tick boxes which are, clinically, unhelpful in order to get the ‘Payment by Results’ systems which will never work well, up and running. THAT’S red tape.

But it seems to be red tape that potentially infringes on the rights of those who might be least able to protect their own that they are classing as ‘red tape’ here.

Contribute to the consultation and let’s tell them how important some of these provisions are.

Oh, and someone should tell the Department of Health that the GSCC doesn’t exist anymore as they seem to have forgotten on their Professional Standards page (published this week!) but we know how much interest the Department of Health has in social work and social care so shouldn’t really be surprised.

Pic by Martin Deutsch@Flickr

Two Chiefs are Better than One?

or the Saga of the Chief Social Worker (s )

On Friday came a somewhat mystifying announcement from theDepartment of Health that two chief social workers will be appointed. The position of ‘Chief Social Worker’ had been advertised earlier in the year but no appointment had been made and the somewhat oblique decision was made that two would be better as no one person would have sufficient knowledge and expertise to be able to adequately respond to the needs of social work with adults and with children and families.

I was never particularly enthralled by idea of a Chief Social Worker  as I didn’t see what it would add to the voice of the profession. Some see links with medics or nurses but there is no ‘Chief Teacher’ – a ‘chief’ position doesn’t mean a profession has a better representation and personally I’d prefer the voice of the profession is somehow accountable to the profession either through a role in BASW, the professional association or the College of Social Work.

The ‘Chief Social Worker’ seemed to me to have a quasi-civil service position to rubber stamp rather than challenge government agendas and that has pretty much been confirmed by the way the appointment has been handled.

Yes, social work needs voice but I am under no illusion the voice of the chief appointed  would be different from voice presented by ADASS/ADCS .  The ‘Chief Social Worker’ would likely be someone coming from the top management positions who had proved their worth within local government systems and would be a mouthpiece for management interests rather than social work interests having been unlikely to have been engaged in frontline social work for many years. If that’s the case, I don’t see the purpose but many were in favour so I could be wrong! (It’s known and I don’t always claim to be right – just opinions!).

I was also particularly concerned that with the appointment of a Chief Social Worker, adult social work would be sidelined further. It was clear to me that any single Chief Social Worker would focus on children’s services because that’s where most social work takes place. I was worried that adult social work would be further marginalised.

So I’m not completely against the move to split the role.

What next for Social Work?

However, the announcement does have a number of implications.

1)   Dividing paths of social work into streams of ‘adult services’, ‘childrens services’ and to some extent ‘mental health services’ is irreversible.  As social work students, graduates and practitioners we  are streamlined by sector earlier and earlier with even qualifying programmes asking more for specialisation earlier  and the post qualification programmes encourage this.

Entry to social work ‘Step up’ type schemeswhich focus in pumping out ,children’s social workers encourage this. Local authorities (with government ministers backing them up) are seeking ‘practice ready’ social workers as graduates from universities which means that placements in statutory children’s services have a disproportionate value. I think that’s terrible shame. A local authority wanting a social worker from university should be prepared to accept a generically trained graduate with any placement experience and GIVE THEM the experience to make them ‘practice ready’. There is a mismatch between local authority expectations and universities ability to deliver and I’m 100% behind the universities here.

Employing organisations need to invest in training their workforce from graduation to get the workforce they want.

There are fewer people around who will have substantial experience necessary to cover both children and adult services. That’s a failing of government interference in the profession, the splitting of social services departments and separating agendas.

2)  Equally worrying is that this decision was seemingly taken ‘behind the scenes’ in the Department of Health.  Both BASW and the College of Social Workhave published statements opposing it. There was no broader consultation with social workers so who made the decision?

Why was such a significant decision taken without any consultation and who was responsible for ‘signing it off’. I’d wager it wasn’t a social worker.  This is frankly very insulting to the profession. Unsurprising but it shows how much the government listen to the College they set up and the professional association when it comes to making crucial decisions. It makes me realise more that the Chief posts will be government mouthpiece posts that will not speak for the profession. The government knows what it wants and it knows ‘what’s best’ for us without consulting or telling us until the decision is made.

Two heads of two professions?

We seem to be  moving inexorably towards two professions. This is sad for people like me, who have always passionately supported genericism as being important. While I think there are positives in having separate chief social workers for adult and children’s services, I am desperately concerned about how the decision was made.

What do you think? Do leave messages as I’m very interested.

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

Over the course of the past months, who could help but feel a plethora of emotion as the horrors of Winterbourne View have unfolded before our very eyes: Absolute disgust that an organisation could get to the point where such blatant institutional abuse becomes a part of daily life, anger at the systems in which we work as they are revealed as insufficient to protect the most vulnerable in our society or perhaps a heart-wrenching empathy towards the vulnerable and a passion that things have to change and something done… but what?

It will hopefully have challenged us all as a professionals.  Is it just possible that as we go about our business there is a very real danger of becoming complecent unless we keep on out toes and remain true to our professional standards and ethical practices?  I’ve been reminded how very important the role of those who commission services and the need for greater accountability when choosing services for individuals who can’t choose for themselves.   Are we pressured into choosing the cheaper option even when we know in our heart that it isn’t the most suitable?  Do we sigh a sigh of relief and accept without question when we find a service that will accommodate the individual with particularly challenging behaviour knowing that the option will be limited? Do unrealistic case-load sizes prevent us from spending time to think outside of the box and identify the very best service and then think how it might be achieved? Do we have a professional relationship with providers when a less formal relationship can be so much easier? If we become too familiar those so important boundaries can become distorted and increase the risk of poor practice or even abuse going unnoticed or being excused.

I started my social care career working in a residential home for children with autism and it must be said that in my experience the majority of carers are decent caring people who go the extra mile.  Most don’t get paid heaps, have to work shifts but still turn up at work asking how they can make the next 8 hours the best they possibly can for those they have come to work for.  However, there are some for whom that isn’t the case and over the past couple of weeks we have seen 11 photos that will probably remain imprinted on our minds long after the media frenzy has died down.

I’d really like to hear how recent events have perhaps challenged you as a health or social care worker as you strive to help deliver the very best services to those who need them. I also look forwards to hearing how the Department of Health is going to drive service commissioning, delivery and safeguarding forwards.  What is agreed upon is that there needs to be a radical overhaul of social care; what doesn’t see so clear is what that will look like.

 

What I would say to Norman Lamb

Norman Lamb MP

Working in dementia services at the ‘frontline’ I often consider what messages I’d feed back to the local and national policy makers if I ever had the opportunity. Of course, I don’t have these opportunities as I’m not a manager so I thought I’d imagine I were at an important meeting with Norman Lamb, the minister for Care Services.

This is what I’d say.

Make policy practical. Making the right noises about setting up a wonderful plan to ‘challenge’ dementia is all well and good but I see nothing of that at the ‘frontline’.

What I see are cuts. I see respite narrowing in terms of ability to access. I see provisions which had been helpful, closing. I see a lack of beds in the local hospitals when they are needed and I see people who need support being denied it because there are no provisions left.

So take your pleasantries and policy ideas and come and spend a day with me in the community and you’ll see why I am impatient and unbelieving about the platitudes that emerge from those who don’t seem to understand what is happening ‘out there’.

I’m tired. I’m tired of saying ‘no’ to people whom I see need services because the provisions are so tight. I’m tired of saying ‘no’ to people at the early stages of need when I know it will prevent higher costs in terms of pain and suffering but also in terms of money in the longer run. I’m tired of logging targets that have no meaning in the lives of those whom I work with. I’m tired of jumping through artificial targets so I can ‘prove’ I’m doing my job when neglecting visits to actually talk to people because I have to catch up on the paperwork.

I have waited for years for a fair system of implementing personalised responses to care which include people with dementia but am still waiting because the entire focus on the programmes developed through personalisation have been on those who are more able to be involved in the processes or those who have involved family members to help them. I’m tired of wading through appallingly designed forms, self assessments and RAS (resource allocation systems) that focus entirely on physical health needs and marginalise mental health needs thereby ignoring equality legislation.

I want action and yes, sometimes, action includes money. I know what the people I work with ask for and I know I can’t deliver it – not through a lack of will – I want to be able to go home thinking I’m doing a good job and doing my best – and for the most part, I think I do – but the best I can offer is very sparse. The best i can do isn’t good enough.

We have few residential homes locally and are placing people further from their families. We have nothing ‘creative’ left to offer as those agencies which are helping with ‘support planning’ aren’t trained to offer support in non-directed advocacy and therefore if someone doesn’t ask, they don’t get.

So what would I do? I don’t have a budget and it’s probably for the best as I’d steam through it in five minutes – one of the many reasons I’m not and will never be a manager – but I would focus on trying to create a system of social care which offers equality of access to good and creative support planning.

I’d commission more non-directed advocacy into support planning. I’d roll out Individual Service Funds for people with dementia and I’d allow more time for carers – and for social workers to work with people who have dementia because honestly, that’s what’s needed.

However all we get is platitudes about how wonderful services will be without extra money being provided. Yes, I’m sure early diagnosis is important. It is. But please, please can the Department of Health and local government concentrate their minds on what is happening now and the poor services we are providing now and do something, anything to make them better.

I want to do my job well and I want to support people but all the tools I had available for doing so are being ripped away from me. It’s sometimes hard to keep the motivation up when you don’t believe you are helping anymore.

I’m the person saying ‘no’. Me, not the Head of Adult Services, not the Ministers responsible, not the councillors responsible. I sit in people’s homes and tell them what they are not entitled to anymore. I want those who make these decisions to take responsibility for that and to listen to us who go out there and who see.

That’s what I’d like.

picture by Liberal Democrats at Flickr

Strivers and Strugglers

As the Conservative Party Conference begins in Birmingham, Cameron has set out his agenda of further benefit cuts and a focus on the ‘strivers’ in society.

Who are these ‘strivers’? They are people who ‘work hard and want to get on in life’.

The issue is that I believe Cameron’s definition both of ‘working hard’ and ‘getting on in life’ is probably vastly different to my reality and the realities I’ve seen at work.

The ‘benefit claimants’ v ‘hard worker’ dynamic is a very toxic one. The government has become very used to divide and rule and this is a further demonstration – and is particularly nefarious in a time of high unemployment and particularly high youth unemployment.

Cameron seems to work on the assumption that all people who have jobs ‘worked hard’ to get them and ‘work hard’ at them. I would challenge that. I wonder  how ‘hard’ the Duchess of Cambridge works at her job.

And looking for work can be an exhausting, demoralising and exceptionally difficult piece of ‘work’. As can caring full time for a family member (with a paltry ‘carers allowance’). Are these people counted as ‘strivers’ in Cameron’s books? What about people who contribute to a community? What about people who overcome challenges and difficulties, including health-related ones for whom actually just getting through the day is an enormous challenge – are they ‘strivers’?  Do they really not work as hard as some people who drive buses, work in social services offices, work in banks etc?  There are hard jobs, of course, but there are also hard lives that exist outside jobs.

The best thing we can do is bat back this ‘striver’ agenda. I don’t want to live in a society that grinds down on those at the bottom without making further expectations of those who have been able to make a success of their lives – and I include myself in that.

Punishing people who don’t, can’t or aren’t able to work seems to be a populist agenda but one of the key things as a social worker I feel a need to challenge are the assumptions made from the safety of the Westminster village about the day to day effects that their policies and their discriminatory rhetoric has on the lives of those who DO strive. Strive desperately – but strive without economic recompense and strive for different goals.

Compassionate Conservatism? It was never anything but empty words.

World Alzheimer’s Day 2012

Purple

Today, September 21st 2012 is World Alzheimer’s Day. The purpose of World Alzheimer’s Day is to raise awareness particularly of Alzheimer’s which the more common type of dementia.

I have a particular interest in Alzheimer’s and dementia. I think there can be a drive in policy to both marginalise those who have dementias and to increase the pressures on their families (where they have involved families) particularly as the amount of money in the ‘pot’ to deliver social care is reduced.

In the light of drugs companies announcing that they may be cutting back on investment in dementia research, it becomes more important to ensure that awareness of the needs of those with or who may in the future have a dementia remain at the forefront of the agenda of health services.

I think it’s important that amid the distress that an illness causes, we remember that a diagnosis of a dementia is not a sentence to misery. It is important that the quality of life factor is researched as well and that we don’t focus on the ‘misery’ of dementias as forgetting and losing the ability to remember is a very frightening thing.

Dementia still carries a stigma. I know the government refers to a ‘dementia challenge’ – subtitled ‘Fighting back against dementia’  but generally  I like to think of it as an opportunity to think about the way that society responds in different way. What are we fighting? Shouldn’t we be working with and walking alongside dementia?  We talk about an ‘ageing population’ and a ‘tsunami of people with dementia’ with an inherent negativity. While most dementias are not reversible, it’s importance that the tenets of ‘recovery’ are not lost in terms of losing hope around a person and promoting a more positive quality of life and environment for those with dementia and for their families where they have them.

By referring to a ‘dementia challenge’ and framing dementia as ‘one of the greatest challenges we face’ I worry that we remove the responsibility of society to promote a less stigmatising environment around people with dementia. It’s that social model of mental health again. Often dementias are forgotten by traditional mental health organisations because there are some differences but I’d like to see a lot of the developments in terms of user voice in mental health extended to dementia services and particularly towards users as well as carers as there is a propensity,  particularly in older adults services to assume  that the user and carer voice will be one and the same and can be interchangeable. I’ve been working in services long enough to know the importance of capturing user voice separately from carer voice and think that ‘lazy’ engagement is much easier than engagement which seeks out those who may have more difficulty communicating.

We need to ally Alzheimer’s and dementias with hopes and a focus on the person and not the illness. Not all dementias, nor all Alzheimer’s are experienced in the same way and the importance is the ability of services – as with all mental illness – to respond to the person and not to the diagnosis.

In my work it is one of the things I find most frequently – people (professionals who really should know better) make an assumption about someone with a dementia diagnosis – about what they can and can’t do/want/achieve. I want the stigma with the NHS and from adult social care to be challenged – that’s my ‘dementia challenge’ if I must use the government’s language.

I want the challenge to be held to statutory services. I want the challenge to be picked up by the NHS and Adult Social Care. I want funding to be appropriately focused to promote better quality of life for those with dementia. I want people with dementias to have a better say in their own services. I want residential, nursing, home and hospital care for people with dementias to be so good we don’t have to worry about it and we can have a confidence that services will be delivered which will help and not hinder personalities to be nurtured when the memory fades. We can deliver better services but the services have to be flexible enough at their core to accept and respond to different ways of doing things. That’s the failing of the system so far. There is a external fascia of ‘personalisation’ but the core of the services, commissioning and attitudes have not changed.

Social Care services for older adults have been struggling far behind, in terms of funding, those adults of working age. There needs to be a greater push on these discriminatory systems which act against people who have dementias and the government can solve it’s own ‘challenge’ by focusing on these issues.

We can make things better but the stigma of those who have dementia needs to be acknowledged by the public but also by the government, by the institutions of state that are responsible for the delivery of services, academic courses which train health and social care workers need to promote ageing positively rather than as a series of ‘problems’ and we all need to look for opportunities rather than ‘challenges’ of Alzheimer’s, dementia and old age.

Some good resources to read about Alzheimer’s and dementia

Modules from OpenLearn (Open University – free modules)

Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation

Alzheimer’s Society UK

SCIE Dementia Gateway

Dementia Resources – NHS Health Scotland

Register an interest in participating in research into Alzheimer’s (for those who have Alzheimer’s and carers) – via DeNDron

photo by Allie’s Dad @ Flickr

Consulting on the CQC

Frimley Hospital UK

I’ve been generally critical of the CQC (Care Quality Commission) since it’s establishment. I’ve been particularly critical of what I have seen to be the failings of a regulator for health and adult social care services where I have felt that there has been an impact, by the lack of robust regulation, on the lives of people who use and need the services which are provided.

My main concerns have been about a move away from regular announced and unannounced inspections and a move towards desk-based inspections. However the CQC has been re-evaluating this approach and with a new Chief Executive in David Behan and an outgoing Chair – I wonder if it’s time for me to evaluate my own attitude to the regulator for health and adult social care services in England.

I could never understand how Cynthia Bower was appointed in the wake of the Mid-Staffordshire scandal. It seemed to be a strange appointment. Starting a new agency by merging the functions of the Healthcare Commission, the Commission for Social Care Inspection and the Mental Health Act Commission was always going to be hard. This combined with new responsibilities to regulate services in different ways seemed to have led the eye to be taken off the ball as far as current standards went with the focus being on bringing new regulatory frameworks in amid low staffing.

As far as social care is concerned (and that’s the area i know best) this move away from  regular on-the-ground inspection of services combined with cuts in funding both to the organisation and to local authorities who might have had their own, more robust, monitoring teams, led to concerns about quality in the services being provided.

However, the CQC seems to be moving on in terms of re-establishing consistent and regular unannounced visits to services and there seems to be a shift in terms of the priorities which they are placing on promoting quality of care over merely meeting the lowest acceptable standards.

I read through the consultation for the strategy of the CQC between 2013-2016 (and, incidentally provided feedback because it is, after all, a consultation!) and it left me more hopeful that the sector might be developing a regulator that it needs.

Six ‘priorities’ are laid out for the next three years.

1. Making greater use of information and evidence to achieve the greatest impact

In this section the CQC acknowledges the move back to regular unannounced inspections and explains the way that information gathered relating to risk has fed into the way that inspections are conducted and that this needs to continue and strengthen in the future.

‘Building an evidence base’ about what works in regulation includes looking at overseas models. Obviously, I’d welcome a fuller evidence-based approach with the caveat that sometimes past excellence can change to present mediocrity by one new member of staff and there will always be some random elements at play in this sector – an area where I think the CQC has failed in the past by simply judging future potential risk by past performance.

The CQC is increasingly going to look at regulating different services in different ways with the same (presumably) framework as inspectors are professional regulators rather than experts in specific sectors. GPs and Dentists need to be monitored in a different way from a nursing home, a large general hospital or a private ambulance service. It seems to make sense.

Using information from different sources is also crucial. The CQC report mentions this. I expect they would feed heavily from local authority complaints in the field of social care and the information we (as LAs) get regarding care providers and particularly our contracting team which monitor quality and complaints. If someone from the CQC came into our LA and spoke to social workers directly about different home care providers and residential homes, I expect they might get a broader view.

2. Strengthening how we work with strategic partners

Here the CQC mention the changes coming in the NHS and the need to link with organisations such as ADASS, Monitor, presumably new Clinical Commissioning Groups and professional organisations.

I hope there will be a strong voice for Social Work in the form of the College of Social Work in feeding information back to the CQC. I might be on a bit of a theme here but I think the CQC can learn an enormous amount about adult social care from social workers and I think they really need to utilise the knowledge we have of local areas and areas around quality. While I will contact the CQC with major concerns/complaints about residential homes, I’m not asked to feedback about niggles or, for that moment about fantastic services. I’d love to see these links work not just at a managerial level but between inspectors and social workers in the locations they regulate.

3. Continue building better relationships with the public

For a regulator to have public confidence, the public have to know what they do, what they are responsible for and what they are not responsible for. The CQC can do their best but if people don’t know about it or have different expectations, they are unlikely to get the message across positively.

New ‘Healthwatch’ organisations will promote local links and input into inspections and the CQC is building on its ‘Experts by Experience’ programme building people who use services and carers of those who use services into the framework. I watched a video from an inspector where she talked about using an ‘expert by experience’ and referred to a carer of a person with dementia who helped her in an inspection of a residential care home. I’d hope that people who have dementia and may have cognitive impairments are also built into the process of being experts by experience. It is vital that users and carers are involved and different models built to encourage this involvement but that assumptions are not made that because someone may  have a cognitive impairment that they cannot speak for themselves.

Improving access to reports would also be good. Improving the searchability of the CQC site would be a massive bonus. It’s become increasingly difficult to search and find information and seems to constantly take steps backwards in terms of usability.

I think it would be helpful if there were comment forms under each service for public to send information from the website directly to the relevant inspector. Inspectors could have a greater visibility online and using broader social media to communicate with the public – not just through PR people.

I want to know what inspectors do every day. I’d love to see a regular blog from an inspector (without needing to mention any specific services but just with broad themes – generally frontline blogs are more interesting than management blogs!)

4. Building relationships with organisations providing care

This is an area I probably have less experience in. It explains that the organisation wants to provide quality reports and improve the feedback given to providers by inspectors. It’s often about links and nurturing positive links over time but not allowing that to impede judgement when there are problems.

5. Strengthening the delivery of our unique responsibilities under the Mental Health and Mental Capacity Act

As an AMHP (Approved Mental Health Professional) and a BIA (Best Interests Assessor) I have a particular interest in matters relating to the Mental Health Act and the Mental Capacity Act.

I feel particularly the CQC have disappointed me (I know that will upset them!) about their knowledge or rather their lack of knowledge about Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards. I think good and thorough knowledge of DoLs should be a core question in every single inspection in every residential and nursing home and hospital in which they may apply. I  have come across too many home managers who really should know better show an appalling lack of current knowledge about DoLs and believe that there are many many unauthorised deprivations of liberty that inspectors should be able to challenge homes and hospitals about.

Personally, I’ve made a number of third party referrals for assessments under DoLs and that’s just by people either allocated to me or situations I come across when visiting people in care homes or hospitals – there must be many many more that go unchallenged because the law is so fluid and complicated and I don’t have any faith that the CQC and those representing them on the ground know it.

I’d like to see better links between inspectors and Best Interests Assessors after all, we (should) have significant expertise in applying the DoLs and perhaps we could shadow inspectors and ask the questions that they don’t know to ask until they are trained up at least.

This is three years too late.

6. Continuing our drive to become a high-performing organisation

This section is about building a learning organisation and working out ways to measure progress. I know the organisation works with ‘professional regulators’ but I think something has been lost in not using people with expertise in health and social care to carry out inspections and to rely on generic ‘auditing’ experience but I can’t see that changing.

I do think there are hopeful signs though in these new priorities and wish the organisation well – we need a good, strong regulator that has the faith of the sector and I feel we will need it all the more as the NHS changes.

I am increasingly thinking that more link, better conversations and more co-production are the ways forward for the CQC and for health and adult social care in general.

Do feedback on the consultation though – we need lots of voices. The CQC say that they welcome feedback through social media – so this is my own response!

photo by vivido @ Flickr

Tell Tim He’s Sacked

One cold evening a couple of years ago I went to hear Tim Loughton, the former Children’s Minister shuffled out of the pack yesterday, speak at a meeting of the All Party parliamentary group for children in care. We queued to the sound of shrill chanting and ominous bullhorns. The Comprehensive Spending Review was being debated in the House, the first indication of the true extent of the government’s spending cuts and Whitehall was closed to traffic as a protest rally gathered.

Accompanied by two young women in foster care, we dawdled through Westminster Hall and the corridors of power. It’s a privilege to be so close to government, never to be rushed. As we hung around in the lobby, the division bell sounded. Members appeared from all sides and dashed into the Commons chamber. They left the door open for a while so we could peer around the corner to see democracy in action.

Given the significance of the evening’s events he could have easily been excused but to his great credit, Loughton appeared as scheduled to address the packed committee room full of young people from all over the country. His speech was a characteristically robust endorsement of the value of foster care and the rights of children and young people in care to the same opportunities as their peers.

With the eloquence of experience, a succession of young people politely but firmly pointed out the flaws in his argument. You say education is important for children in care but you’ve just voted to do away with educational maintenance, the money that supports us. You say jobs are important but unemployment for young people is rising. You say we all deserve good foster carers but there’s a chronic shortage of resources to recruit them. Thanks for coming, though.

And that’s Tim Loughton in a nutshell. Unfashionably sticking up for children and young people in care and defending the social work profession whilst simultaneously his Cabinet eviscerated the resources he claimed were in place  to support them.

That night Loughton bobbed and weaved with the skill of an experienced politician, riding out the storm without properly satisfying anyone in his responses. Most ministers would have ducked out: he was there because he wanted to stay. Loughton is no placeholder or careerist. Shadow Children’s Minister for several years before coming to power, this is the portfolio he sought and prepared for.

The former minister is extremely well-informed about fostering, adoption and children in care. Unusually his main source was the people involved rather than his civil servants. Over an extended period he’s taken the time to understand the sector by making himself available to children, young people and carers. He created a telephone hotline, “Tell Tim”, and met regularly with organisations representing young people and carers, offering an unprecedented degree of accessibility. Last night on twitter they lined up to thank him and praise his commitment. For a group who voice is seldom heard, his willingness to listen meant an awful lot.

One of the things children and young people in care told him was that they were fed up with needing to get permission from social workers for school trips, holidays, activities and sleepovers with friends. You couldn’t mark them out as more different from their peers if you felt-tipped a red cross on their foreheads. A group of young people confronted him on television about this. Loughton shifted uneasily under the pressure, yet he delivered on his promise to respond. His first act as a minister was to write to local authorities to remind them that they had the power to give foster carers discretion on these matters. I showed a copy to one of the young women who appeared in the programme – “You did this,” I said. Now it’s enshrined in the revised Fostering Standards. The fact authorities have still not got the message is not his fault.

It’s not all so positive. He defends social work yet I’ve heard him dismiss the content and nature of assessments with the sarcastic panache of a Daily Mail leader writer. His promised fostering action plan is still to materialise. Hearing him several times subsequently, I continued to admire his grasp of the fostering task whilst growing weary of disingenuous references to the deficiencies of authorities he knew full well were tottering under the burden of  his government’s cuts.

Ultimately his departure may say less about the man and more about the government’s perception of the sector. The adoption agenda has been dominated by Gove and Cameron. Martin Narey joined the chorus of praise and regret but in terms of policy creation made him largely redundant.

They have seized the big issues, relating it to other props of Tory policy around the family and budgets cuts. In this world, an understanding of the details, of the everyday problems facing children, carers and social workers, gets in the way. The struggles with resources, with finding the right placement, with whether a child can stay with her friend this weekend, have little significance. More than this, they may actually obstruct the agenda for change because they don’t fit together with policy as neatly as the Department may wish.

Yet these are the issues that make life better for children and young people in care. For children and carers alike, nothing is more important. Gove’s distance from this awkward day-to-day reality leads to dogmatic policy. It leaves you to wonder if there is ever a place for any minister who thoroughly masters not his brief but an understanding of the people affected by it. It’s hard to understand social work. Loughton did, but in the end all it got him was the sack.

Importance of keeping Social Work political

A quick plug for   this piece I wrote for Community Care about why it’s important for social workers to be political.

Just as an addendum (because I had to keep within a word limit), I’d add that the Social Work Action Network (SWAN) whom I mention in the article have their annual conference in London next year.

I recommend it if you want to see collectively how social workers in the public sector can be political and build links with user organisations. It’s the only way I see our future as a profession.