With such a complex and collaborative role envisaged for adult
social care departments, it’s no surprise that different
directors tend to emphasise different parts of their very flexible
brief, writes Craig Kenny.
The new Directors of Adult Social Services (DASS) are meant to
lead as ‘champions’ of vulnerable adults in their
communities, giving them choice and independence, while still
making decisions about what is affordable for them.
They will have a duty to protect vulnerable adults and be
accountable to a host of regulators, while at the same time
defending the right of disabled and older adults to take risks,
according to best practice guidance on the DASS role.
“Directors need to recognise that people have a right to
“Directors will need to be thinking about what contribution
social care and social workers can make, but also to make sure that
other services and the community in which they live also respond
positively to disabled and older people,” says Ray Jones,
director of adult and community services at Wiltshire
“As a champion alongside disabled and older people,
directors need to recognise that people have a right to take risks,
and this is part of making them more independent and of having
choice and control.
“This means directors have to have the professional and
personal confidence to tolerate risks themselves, but also to be
beside their staff and others in accepting and tolerating
Though the guidance emphasises the importance of developing the
local care market, Jones – formerly the council’s
overall social services director – sees the DASS as being on the
“Market development is very much an activity that should
be shaped by the wishes of disabled and older people,” he
says. “Acting as a champion alongside disabled and older
people is not telling them what they want, it’s finding out
what they want and helping them to get it – albeit within
what will still be rationed resources.”
Child protection remains key
Though children’s services have been split from adult, the
importance of remaining focused on child protection remains a key
“For families where there’s a parent with mental
health problems or a disability, the DASS needs to ensure a
responsibility is accepted to assist the parent where necessary, so
they can understand their parental roles and responsibilities
well,” says Jones.
The guidance also places a lot of emphasis on responsibilities
to child social services clients approaching adulthood, about
giving them information and helping them plan their adult care.
Most directors agree this area was a weakness even when child
and adult social services were joined. “Any way of organising
services and allocating responsibilities is bound to create
boundaries and potentially leave gaps,” says Jones.
“One of the tasks of managers is to work across boundaries
sensibly and to close the gaps.”
“The green paper is very visionary but short on
Gwen Ovshinsky, newly appointed DASS at Islington Council,
previously held a joint social services/NHS commissioning post, and
emphasises the importance of steering partner organisations towards
“The green paper outcomes are not ones you would
traditionally associate with social services for adults – they are
more about economic wellbeing, social inclusion, improving the
quality of lives and health,” she says.
“One problem of having such broad outcomes is how you link
cause and effect. The green paper is very visionary but it’s
short on mechanisms.”
The DASS role will be shaped by research on effective early
interventions and a new set of performance measures, Ovshinsky
believes. “If there was sharper focus on prevention, early
intervention and enablement this might reduce the need for more
costly and intensive services.
“And most social services performance indicators are
process indicators – the challenge for government will be to
come up with a set of outcome measures to help authorities refocus
the way they do things.”
She is disappointed, however, that the green paper did not pledge
the kind of serious investment in adult social care the NHS has
recently enjoyed. “I don’t think it’s possible to
bring about the whole systems change of the green paper without
that additional funding.”
Another new task is to make regular strategic needs assessments
to plan statutory and paid for services for the next 10 to 15
years, and to link this into the council’s housing needs
assessment to ensure there will be sufficient stock for supported
This is the exciting part for Dwayne Johnson, strategic director
for health and community at Halton Council, who has managerial
experience both in social care and housing strategy.
“It’s an opportunity to have the interconnectedness
among stakeholders and to join up our thinking,” he says,
“Though I recognise the challenge that will create in
boroughs where there’s more than one primary care
Stretching your thinking
The freedom councils are being given to bring other services under
the adult social care umbrella has been taken to heart in Halton,
which has also given Johnson responsibility for housing, leisure,
community services and the arts.
“What the Department of Health is doing is stretching your
thinking about other areas such as culture and leisure – it’s
a less concentrated approach to the social care aspects and a much
wider approach to the preventive agenda, and how can it slow the
process of people going into high dependency care.”
Whether such a diverse portfolio will dilute or enhance the DASS
role remains to be seen, but fears that it will have inferior
status to the Director of Children’s Services (DCS) have not
so far been justified.
A recent Community Care survey of 40 councils found
that the DCS and DASS were mostly on the same payscales. And in his
introduction to the guidance, health minister Stephen Ladyman
insists the DASS has “equal status, importance and
esteem” to the DCS, not diminished by the fact that the
guidance is not statutory.
“It is important that the formal status of DASS is
equivalent to formal status being given to DCS,” says Jones.
“Otherwise over the years local authorities will give more
attention to children and a declining attention to disabled adults
and older people.”
* Best Practice Guidance on the Role of the Director of Adult
* Independence, Well-Being and Choice (Green Paper on Adult Social
Available from www.dh.gov.uk