Letters from readers to Community Care 17 July 2008

Service users can learn how to boss

The debate regarding the relationship between service users and their personal assistants needs to be kept in context.

Obviously the relationship roles have reversed in that the previously passive recipient of the service is now to become the employer of the service provider.

However, there is no mandatory requirement for employers to be fully trained and educated on the processes involved, no matter how beneficial better knowledge may be.

Insurers provide cover for self-employed people such as gardeners and domestic cleaners who might employ up to five employees and I doubt that many in this category receive full training.

They too have to go through the learning curve of employing people and I don’t hear a torrent of mistreatment complaints coming from their employees.

Of course, the legal requirements of employing people always have to be met whether you are a service user or a gardener

But as long as employers of PAs know where to obtain advice, that should be enough and it’s a matter of choice if training is to be sought or not.

The insurance world is used to this situation and will always offer affordable premiums where a competitive environment exists. If additional enhancements in cover are required, then the decision to spend more is also that same freedom of choice benefit for the service user.

Talk of codes of conduct and trade union membership for PAs isn’t a bad thing but direct payment teams and organisations such as Centres for Independent Living exist to provide this very type of guidance.

If we are to encourage the take up of personalised budgets why do we constantly raise issues that potentially scare people off instead of leaving service users alone to make their own minds up?

I know my gardener manages well enough without this type of pressure.

Steve Arthington , Specialist care insurance manager, Ellis Bates

Wrong to blame the practice placement

Your correspondent (“Help for new staff”, letters, http://www.communitycare.co.uk/108705) says they are pleased that “there is at last some recognition that social work graduates finish their courses feeling unprepared.”

What I take issue with is the statement that “the main problem lies with practice placements”. What is meant by this? Should there be more practice placements? Is the quality of placements poor?

As an experienced practice teacher I feel it is unfair to blame a new social worker’s lack of confidence in a social work setting on the practice placement.

I do agree, however, that mentoring, weekly supervision and a small initial caseload, as well as extra continuous professional development requirements are all helpful in the first year post qualifying.

Joy Moore, Mid Lothian

Motorist takes the council for a ride

Sally Gillen touched on a subject close to all car drivers (“Running on Empty”, www.communitycare.co.uk/108766). But the maths do not add up.

If Kate Ramsden pays £1.20 per litre for fuel and she spends £280 per month she is buying 233 litres of fuel. If she drives 500 miles that means she gets 2.14 miles per litre or 9.6 miles per gallon. What cars do workers in Aberdeenshire drive, Lamborghinis? I know the area is Scotland’s oil capital but have you tried to help an older person into an Italian sports car?

David Earnshaw, Senior care manager, Bradford adult services

Retrograde and dangerous step

Re suggestions that the social work degree should be split into separate adults’ and children’s qualifications (“Ministers to test students’ readiness for social work”, www.communitycare.co.uk/108626). This would be a retrograde and potentially dangerous step which would undermine social work as a profession that works across the lifecycle. It would also run counter to the thrust of many inquiries which repeatedly make the call for improved communication between professionals and agencies, and identify the need for more holistic assessment.

An understanding of the lifecycle in different social and cultural contexts has always been a core social work skill, knowledge and value base. This core professional base is what marks out the uniqueness of the profession and equips us to provide that linking and co-ordinating role that other professions often struggle with and more often than not look to us to meet.

I was a member of the independent inquiry panel in Northern Ireland that examined the deaths of Madeleine and Lauren O’Neill, a case where the evidence suggests that a mother known to adult mental health services and children’s services took her own life and that of her daughter following discharge from in-patient psychiatric services.

A clear finding of this inquiry related to the lack of co-ordination and communication between adult mental health services and children’s services, which was partly due to structural reasons (ie, the separation into distinct and rigid directorates) and issues relating to the knowledge and training of adult and children’s services staff.

In relation to training and knowledge it was clear that adult services staff needed a greater understanding of issues relating to children and vice versa. The inquiry makes a recommendation on this point, focusing on undergraduate and postgraduate training for all relevant professions.

It is welcome that ministers have recognised the widespread concern within the profession that the new degree is not equipping newly qualified social workers for work in statutory settings. To split the qualification would be an admission of defeat.

The proposed “newly qualified social worker scheme for child care” would greatly assist new social workers in a protected first year in practice, and it is easy to see how a similar approach in mental health settings and work with offenders would be helpful. Nevertheless, undergraduate course design needs to include more input on child care, mental health and working with offending behaviour. These three areas clearly call for transferable skills in risk assessment, issues relating to loss of liberty and working with families and communities. All core social work.

Avery Browser, NSPCC Northern Ireland

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