Behan takes fight for equality to Whitehall

David Behan, the first director general for social care, talks to Mithran Samuel about the scale of the task he faces in raising the profile of adults’ services within the Department of Health

Graduates from Bradford University.
1978-84: Social worker, children’s team manager, Wakefield Council.
1984-9: Social services manager, Avon Council.
1989-96: Senior assistant director, deputy director, then director of social services, Cleveland Council.
1995-6: Director of social services designate, Middlesbrough Council.
1996-2003: Director of social services, Greenwich Council.
2002-3: President, Association of Directors of Social Services.
2003-6: Chief inspector, Commission for Social Care Inspection.

“That belief in equality and the importance of social justice is just as important to me today as when I began as a volunteer in social care in the early 1970s and when I became a social worker.”

From the mouth of a man about to become a top civil servant, such words would ordinarily ring hollow.

However, few doubt the sincerity of David Behan’s social care values, as he prepares to become the Department of Health’s first director general for social care, the sector’s most senior non-political role.

Indeed, Behan, who this week formally steps down as the Commission for Social Care Inspection’s first chief inspector, will join the DH with great expectations from the sector of raising its perennially low status.

Since children’s social care moved to the Department for Education and Skills in 2003, adult care has become marginalised in the DH, which continues to be dominated by the NHS.

Behan says: “There’s a lot to do. I’ve got to go in and create a new [social care] directorate in the DH.”

Another crucial piece of early work is the DH’s funding review for social care, the basis for its bid for next year’s comprehensive spending review.

With the impact of NHS cost-shunting and rising demographic pressures on services exposing funding shortfalls, the spending review is crucial for the sector. Yet the Treasury has repeatedly emphasised that the overall settlement will be tight, with education already promised a decent slice.

But, as well as his values, Behan has a strong record and, in his words, “a fantastic insight into the quality of social care”, gleaned from his two-and-a-half years at CSCI.

He is proud of the organisation’s performance in its short existence, which will end in 2008 when its adult function merges with the Healthcare Commission, a year after its children’s duties are hived off to Ofsted.

He says expectations of CSCI, which uniquely combined assessing councils, regulating providers, measuring value for money and reporting on the state of social care, were low. “Lots of people thought we were being too ambitious,” he says.

Delivering its full inspection programme – something none of its predecessor bodies had achieved – in its first year was crucial to “being seen as a credible organisation”.

He also cites as key successes its Inspecting for Better Lives programme, refocusing provider inspection on lesser performers, last year’s State of Social Care, and its report on poor medicines management in care homes. Of the latter, he says: “Private sector organisations had said ‘you are being too hard about that’, but we were pretty unapologetic.”

As a result, he says, care home trade bodies have driven improvements in medicines management in the sector.

The State of Social Care report provides a useful benchmark for Behan’s priorities at the DH, and in particular for the spending review. It criticised rising thresholds for services, restricting them to fewer people, and a lack of support for carers, both of which have clear resource implications.

Unsurprisingly for someone who has led the body charged with enforcing value for money in social care, Behan rejects the begging bowl approach to funding, saying councils need to become more efficient at using existing funds. But he adds:

“Ultimately there’s an issue about the availability of resources. We know there’s unmet need.”

Another area that requires investment is training, he adds, given evidence that those providers that meet national minimum standards on NVQ qualifications tend to meet standards on service provision.

Improved training is also crucial to adult protection, another issue where he will take valuable experience from CSCI to the DH, the inspectorate having recently published its report into abuse of people with learning difficulties in Cornwall.

In April, Liam Byrne, then care services minister, said he would ask civil servants to examine the case for putting adult protection on the same statutory footing as child protection.

But Behan is unconvinced of the need for new laws. “If you look at part 8 reviews where children have died, it’s not that the legislation was wrong but because there were individual errors. You can pass lots of legislation but that doesn’t necessarily address the issue of why abuse takes place.”

Behan seems ready for the huge challenges ahead. His ability to talk candidly about government policy is likely to be limited, but many in the sector hope he will be able to exert a strong influence on it.

Behan on Behan
Three words to describe himself:
“Committed, passionate and engaging.”

Outside social care:
“It’s our 25th wedding anniversary this month. We are going to Italy to lose ourselves in red wine and good food.”

Favourite recent read:
“The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. It was about someone finding out who they were and deciding what’s important.”

“My mother. A lot of my beliefs in the importance of justice and equality and the inherent dignity of each human being come from her.”

Behan on…

“At the time we were set up, people thought we’d fall over, that we were being too ambitious. People don’t say that to us anymore.”

Adult protection:
“In some respects, the adult protection debate is where the child protection debate was about 20 years ago.”

“I think carers and the workforce are two examples where future investment can lead to improvements in quality. The comprehensive spending review needs to look at that.”

His new job:
“There’s a lot to do. I’ve got to go in and create a new directorate in the Department of Health.”

Social work values:
“Social work is fundamentally about addressing inequality and social injustice. Some people choose to go into politics to do that. Some of us choose social work.”

Ray Jones, chair of the British Association of Social Workers:
“David has been able to speak quite independently as an inspector. As a senior civil servant, his public statements will be more limited.”

Gary FitzGerald, chief executive of Action on Elder Abuse:
“He needs to make some statements early on the direction he’s going to take.”


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