Andrew Lansley has announced that social work practices – groups of independent social workers who are contracted to local authorities but independent of them – are to be extended from children and young people’s services to adult social care.
Such organisations “discharge the statutory duties of the local authority” for their clients.
This is potentially of huge significance since it means that local authorities could delegate their two key statutory “touchpoints” – signing off a care package budget and reviews of care packages – to non-local authority bodies.
Importantly, this possibility won’t just be available to social work practices; the press notice accompanying Lansley’s announcement says that social work practices
could include other professionals or organisations considered appropriate for the services provided.
Whilst this undoubtedly means private sector companies, it also means disabled people’s organisations and social enterprises. There are some examples of such organisations providing significantly different types of services within adult social care with resulting outcomes much better than traditionally achieved (such as my own, ECDP), but the idea of SWPs creates a far greater range of opportunities.
It’s interesting, of course, that SWPs are thought – according to the Department of Health – to enable social workers to:
- Spend more time with the individuals in their care and the bureaucratic burden on individual social workers is reduced.
- Take decisions much closer to their clients, resulting in a more responsive service.
- Feel empowered with more control over the day to day management of the practice.
- Make use of the increased financial flexibility to deliver better outcomes by stepping back and thinking creatively about resource use.
- Enjoy their jobs more – staff satisfaction levels for the children’s pilot have been high as staff feel empowered with more control over the day-to-day management of the Practice. They feel they are very much part of a decision-making team.
In the first place, that reads almost like an exact replica of the reasons for making services user-led, rather than led by professionals. In the second, it’s telling that the current social care system apparently doesn’t allow for any of these things.
Social work practices could be of huge significance. We will, as they say, watch this space.