Anne Williams of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services talks to Mithran Samuel

Anne Williams (pictured) has a challenge on her hands as the first president of the new Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass), our exclusive survey of social care practitioners has revealed.

Adult services respondents betrayed a hostility to government policy in their area, revealing a chasm between the ministers Adass will seek to influence and the professionals its members employ or commission to turn policy into practice.

Williams’s ability to bridge this gap will be a key test of her presidential year, which commenced last month.

Two-thirds of 570 adult practitioners questioned said policy on older people was fairly or very poor. Williams, strategic director of community, health and social care at Salford Council, is not surprised.

“There’s huge ageism in the UK,” she says. “Social workers who are on the frontline will see and feel that on behalf of older people.” However, she cites policies intended to improve matters: the Partnership for Older People Projects (Popp) pilots, which examine how councils and primary care trusts can reshape services to be more preventive and the Link Age Plus scheme, which provides one-stop shops for older people to access a range of services.

The Popp pilots embody the vision of last year’s health and social care white paper – to shift provision away from acute services towards prevention, helping people live more independently and reducing their future care needs.

However, 97% of adult services respondents said they felt these aspirations could only be delivered with great or some difficulty, given current or prospective resources.

It is an argument that adult directors have mounted ahead of this year’s comprehensive spending review, which will set Whitehall expenditure limits from 2008-11.

Councils are already tightening eligibility criteria in England – inverting the white paper’s goals – while demographic pressures show demand will rise.

So what hope can Williams give?

She says the creation last year of the social care directorate within the Department of Health, headed by David Behan, has had an impact, leading to increased access to officials for directors and a change in the DH’s perception of social care.

“It’s already having an impact in terms of our input into the CSR. There’s a much clearer recognition [in the department] that you need a social care presence in the development of policy.”

However, the DH is already gunning for a real-terms increase for social care. Convincing the Treasury of the sector’s importance in the face of claims from education, health and other priority areas is a tougher job.

Our survey also revealed ambivalence towards the drive to transfer purchasing power for services from councils to users. While 70% said this would be good for service users, more than 40% said it would be bad for social workers.

Williams says practitioners are understandably worried about the impact on their jobs of direct payments and individual budgets. Both imply a reduced role for care managers, for instance.

The DH claims that changes will be positive as practitioners would move from arranging services for people from existing, traditional provision to supporting them to purchase the best possible service themselves – an advocacy role more in tune with social work values.

Williams admits that, despite this claim, there remains uncertainty over what will happen. She says: “This is a big intellectual and operational challenge. There’s a huge debate about how we can deliver this and maintain stability in services. People are living with a degree of uncertainty.”

Adass’s ability to secure clarity, as well as resources, for social care will be a key test of its first year – a challenge Williams seems keen to take up.

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Mithran Samuel

This article appeared in the 26 April issue under the headline “Williams looks to play bridge”

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