Care services minister Ivan Lewis last month announced measures to improve the standard and image of social care.
The initiatives stem from a Department of Health-commissioned report by Denise Platt, chair of the Commission for Social Care Inspection, on the status of adult social care released on the same day as Lewis’s announcement.
Platt said the service lacked confidence and was “timid in its vision and ambition for how adult social care services can be delivered”. She added that leadership was required to tackle this and help turn a largely invisible service into a visible one.
Social care skills academy
A skills academy, called SocialCare21, to develop social care leadership, commissioning and management, was the main measure announced by Lewis.
Platt said the academy should provide training for professionals from the statutory, private and voluntary sectors and inspire and motivate people to become leaders. She said better leadership would help improve standards of care.
Platt said current training arrangements “do not add up to a coherent and flexible framework for the development and support of social care leaders”. She added that while the existing scheme for senior managers, funded by the DH and channelled through the Social Care Institute for Excellence, has been praised by social care leaders in councils, top managers in the private and voluntary sectors were critical. Those in the sectors claimed it did not focus sufficiently on how to run a successful business.
Martin Green, chief executive of the English Community Care Association, which represents private and voluntary care homes, agrees there is not enough of a business focus in the course. He says that while the government talks of the need for a mixed economy of care, with care commissioned by councils and provided by organisations from all sectors, the support structures for social care organisations do not reflect this, instead focusing on services provided by local authorities.
The local government background of many of those working in the DH and social care support bodies also partly responsible for this, Green adds. “There needs to be far more people from the independent sector in those positions. The Department of Health could look at having people [from the independent sector] on a secondment programme.”
Des Kelly, executive director of the National Care Forum, which represents voluntary care providers, says his members have also found the courses unsuitable. “We went along to have a look at some of them to see if they would work for our members but they didn’t fit their requirements,” he says.
While not denying that there is room for improvement on the course, Amanda Edwards, acting chief executive of Scie, points out it was oversubscribed on its last intake and it attracts people from all three sectors. “We already have in the current intake a very good mix of people from the statutory and the private and voluntary sector so there is obviously support for the programme,” she says.
The form the academy will take is as yet unclear. Lewis said he had not decided whether it would be a virtual body or run from a particular base.
Workforce development body Skills for Care has already submitted a proposal for a virtual skills academy based on curriculum hubs, each linked to a university. The hubs would link up with councils through Skills for Care’s regional learning resource networks – partnerships of employers, education and training providers, which support workforce development.
In her report, Platt said that while there was support for the idea of an academy across social care, there was concern about the Skills for Care proposals and the amount of consultation that had taken place on them.
She said that the new academy should “build on” the work of Skills for Care but should have a “clear named identity” separate from the workforce development body even if it is federated to it.
Platt recommended that Skills for Care runs a high-level steering group, jointly with Scie, which would also include the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services and independent sector representatives, to oversee the project’s development.
Andrea Rowe, head of Skills for Care, says she is encouraged by Platt’s recommendation for the government to build on Skills for Care’s proposals and on its role in the proposed steering group. She says the government announcement means the academy will now have a “higher profile”, helping it to attract money from the private sector.
No funding pledges for the academy have been made by Lewis but Rowe says Skills for Care and Scie will carry out the development work within existing budgets and put together a business case that will attract other funding from the DH, the DfES and the private sector.
She says that Platt’s comments about the lack of consultation represented a “misunderstanding” about the stage Skills for Care had reached with the plans, as they were yet to be presented to the organisation’s board and were not ready to go out to wider consultation.
Spreading best practice
The other major part of Lewis’s announcement was for Scie to create a new system for disseminating best practice by the end of the year. Platt’s report said while there was much praise for Scie’s work on user involvement, “quicker progress on dissemination of good practice was expected”.
She said a new dissemination strategy was a “critical area”, particularly in adult social care.
Voluntary and private sector providers agree a new system is required and argue that, as with its leadership training course, a public sector bias at Scie extends to this function.
“They haven’t recognised we have a mixed economy of care and they need to be much more focused on getting best practice to everyone, not just people who work for councils,” says Green.
Kelly says that while Scie has made a “good start” on its work on children’s services and the public sector it has not met the expectations of his members and that hopefully the new dissemination system will help to address this.
But Edwards says that the social care sector’s knowledge of Scie’s work had greatly increased over the past two years and there was a need for organisations to improve in their use of the information Scie sends out.
“We will be doing work over the next three to five years on how to develop that kind of learning culture in social care so people are really using the material that we produce to improve their work with service users.”
While social care has long consisted of services from public, private and voluntary sectors and the government is looking to widen this mixed economy to include new types of body, such as social enterprises, many outside local government argue that training and support structures do not reflect this.
Platt concludes her report with a call for “active consideration” to be given to a national co-ordinated improvement strategy for social care spanning the public, private and voluntary three sectors. This, alongside the measures announced by Lewis, may help answer the critics and bring the voluntary and private sectors fully into the tent.
The social care improvement package announced by Ivan Lewis includes:
● A skills academy, named SocialCare21, to develop social care management, leadership and commissioning.
● A new system for identifying and disseminating best practice, developed by Scie by the end of the year.
● Ministers to open discussions with publishers to create a high-prestige social care journal, similar to The Lancet for health.
● A new national social care board, made up of service users, their families, academics and practitioners, to directly advise ministers.
● Department of Health to work with awards schemes to build on their recognition of excellent frontline social care practice.
Who can afford to care
English Community Care Association
Skills for Care
National Care Forum
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This article appeared in the 10 May issue under the headline “Business skills need sharpening”