A president with a road map seeks to right past wrongs

Even at a time with no structural upheaval or major legislative
change in social care (and when was that?), the role of president
of the Association of Directors of Social Services is a tall

You have to act as a lobbyist, campaigner, spokesperson for your
profession and for social services departments, and composer of
policy proposals, alongside a formidable day job as a director of
social services. You can’t possibly please everyone, for as new
president Andrew Cozens admits: “ADSS always struggles with, on the
one hand, those who dismiss us as vested interests of senior
managers, and on the other hand, those who feel there has been a
vacuum where the voice of social care should be, who have very high
expectations that we can’t always meet.”

The challenge is made harder as Cozens takes over the presidency by
the threat the children’s green paper poses to the role of director
of social services, by proposing a statutory director of children’s
services, and by the related likely demise of social services
departments. This in turn, coupled with the decimation of the
social care civil service at the Department of Health and the, as
yet, unformed structures at the Department for Education and
Skills, threatens to undermine the identity of social care as a
distinct discipline. This is even before the new institutions to
safeguard it – the General Social Care Council, Social Care
Institute for Excellence, and Commission for Social Care Inspection
– have properly established themselves.

With all the questions surrounding the future of his association –
and even his profession – it is lucky that Cozens is not short of
answers. He has been talking to staff in his own department
(Leicester) about what they look for from an ADSS president. “They
want a road map through what is a very confusing time
professionally and organisationally,” he says.

They also want someone to bang a drum for social care, something
Cozens is used to doing. “Being in a new council, a director has to
argue about why have social care and social services. Staff say,
make sure we are valued for what we do, that there is something
distinctive about social care.” Finally, he believes front-line
workers look to the ADSS to be on what he calls the “inside track”,
influencing policy. With his reputation as a consummate networker,
and his own admission that his activism in the ADSS is partly
fuelled by a desire to “see round corners” and to influence what he
finds there, Cozens should be just what they need.

He accepts the severity of the threat facing social care, if the
government’s drive to improve specific services, irrespective of
which profession delivers them, is not informed by a close
understanding of the specific contribution of social care.

Cozens believes that the ADSS must work closely with other
stakeholders – the GSCC, Scie, CSCI and the Local Government
Association – to help the government with a “big idea” for the
future of social care. “Has there ever been a better time to be
championing social care, when there are so many other people to
support you in that?” he asks.

His inaugural speech as president, delivered this week, will “make
a pitch for social care as a mainstream service so that a future
for social care in local government is assured, not absorbed by
education or the NHS”. He explains: “I’m going to call for the
abolition of the poor law framework of services and its replacement
by a statutory duty of well-being. This would involve a different
configuration of social care services so that you get it right for
everyone.” It is a step forward from the paper launched this time
last year by the Institute for Public Policy Research,1
sponsored by the ADSS and Community Care, but a step in
the same direction.

Like that report, he argues for some radical beliefs about
structure that seem a long way from current government thinking.
“I’ve always been attracted by the idea that public health has its
natural home in local government not the NHS.” Many in social care
would agree. But would many ministers?

Cozens is an idealist, and not easily daunted. “The shadow of the
poor law has hung over us at every turn. Seebohm’s ideals lasted
until the money ran out and then we fell back on poor law habits
like rationing and eligibility criteria, dividing the deserving
from the undeserving. The Children Act 1989 was distorted and
became a means of screening people out. The community care
legislation was the biggest false dawn. It took a really good idea,
which was freedom and creativity for social care staff to use money
to tailor individual packages for a relatively small group of
people, and became a national framework for rationing access to
residential and nursing home care.”

He cites an example from his own experience. As an assistant
director in Harrogate when community care was first implemented in
1993, he masterminded an initiative in which everyone using home
care got a spring clean. “But we did it once, and after that it was
about battening down the hatches and turning people away.”

But will his ideals ever come to life? He knows he needs to make
alliances, adding modestly: “It needs some big brains, bigger than
mine, to make it work.” He knows it is an even bigger ambition than
the key objective of his most recent predecessors as ADSS
president, which has been to improve social care’s public image.
That, according to Cozens, is not enough. “Where does social work
and social care fit into society? We have to work out what social
work is there for. That’s critical if we are fighting our corner in
the DfES and DoH. You could either roll over and say, this is the
end of social services departments, or see this as an opportunity
for social care values to influence mainstream services and
reinvent social care as a major force.”

His dramatic talk contrasts markedly with the cautious public
pronouncements of his immediate predecessor David Behan. Cozens
doesn’t seem to look over his shoulder much. In fact, he is
prepared to ignore some critics, having already been slammed in two
Daily Mail editorials when director of social services in
Gloucestershire – “think mad, then do it” being the most memorable
criticism of his management. “I’m not sure how much time we should
waste trying to convince the sceptics,” he says.

It’s tempting to draw a link between his idealism and the formative
experiences he uses to explain his choice of a social work career
and his continuing commitment to its ideals. Both Cozens’ parents
died when he was young – his father when he was 13, his mother
while he was at university, both after long illnesses during which
he and his siblings were carers.

The second experience he cites came later in life. He was working
hard, “trying to be the perfect social worker, driving myself into
the ground, in a place where there were very few other services, so
I was trying to offer the level of support that people wanted”. He
was pulled up short by a diagnosis of testicular cancer and found
himself in hospital, next to a fellow patient who had a more
advanced illness and was too traumatised to consent to his
operation. Staff were struggling to communicate with him because he
had a learning difficulty, and Cozens became an impromptu advocate.
Certainly a salutary lesson on the importance of social care skills
in an NHS setting.

Then he was director of social services in Gloucestershire at the
time of the infamous Gloucestershire judgement, which allowed the
withdrawal of services after redrawing of eligibility criteria and
reassessment of need. “That’s the thing I most regret
professionally,” Cozens says. “Not because it wasn’t the right
thing to do, but because it slammed the door shut on the
possibility that that piece of legislation could meet all the
aspirations of disabled and older people. It legitimised social
care being framed by financial considerations.”

Surely the root of many of his ideas is obvious when he adds: “Part
of my motivation is to put that right.”

1 L Kendall and L Harker (eds), From
Welfare to Wellbeing
, IPPR, 2002

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