The expected overhaul of children’s services and the adult social care green paper suggest a period of upheaval lies ahead for social services departments.
Community Care reporters investigate the changes in store
For the social care world, the end of 2008 was overshadowed by the Baby P case and the ensuing furore around the state of child protection in the UK. The ramifications of the case will start to be felt next year when several reviews report. And with the creation of a Social Work Taskforce to help improve the profession’s quality and status and boost recruitment and retention, the adult social care green paper, bills, strategies and consultations galore, 2009 is going to be a busy year in social care.
Children’s services in England are set to be overhauled this year following the headline-hitting case of Baby P. Things start this month with the national child protection review by Lord Laming for the Department for Children, Schools and Families. The review will look at key barriers to effective working and the action the government and national and local agencies should follow to overcome these barriers.
In March the government’s review of serious case reviews, the review of local safeguarding children boards, and the review of safeguarding arrangements in independent schools, non-maintained special schools and boarding schools are all due to report. The three reviews were instigated in October before the Baby P case triggered a call for widespread reform in the child protection system in England.
Barnardo’s assistant director of policy and public affairs Alison Worsley supports Laming’s review but warns that the stock-take should not detract from the progress made since the Children Act 2004 and the Every Child Matters agenda was launched.
“There is no need for further radical reform of children’s welfare legislation and policy,” she says. “The key to keeping children safe is to assist local authorities and partner agencies through local safeguarding children boards and partnership working, to continue to develop services and processes in line with Every Child Matters and to enhance practice skills and support staff in frontline services.”
Later that month, the cross-government strategy on children in the criminal justice system and health and social care should be published.
The anticipated review by the Joint Youth Justice unit of the Youth Justice Board is causing some ripples. Andrew Neilson, assistant director of the Howard League for Penal Reform queries why the YJB has not been reviewed since its creation 11 years ago. There may be uncertainty about the YJB, given the proposal to devolve to local authorities the £279m child custody budget it manages.
In early 2009, the government is set to update the roles and responsibilities of the lead member for children’s services and the director of children services.
A consultation on the updated guidance, launched in December, closes on 10 February. Once finalised by the government, it will replace 2005 statutory guidance. It aims to explain how both roles are distinct and complementary – and how, by working together as a team, they can be most effective in driving clear improvements in outcomes.
In the summer, the first six areas to pilot social work practices are due to get up and running. The three-year pilots at Blackburn with Darwen, Hillingdon in London, Kent, Liverpool, Sandwell and Staffordshire councils will involve private or voluntary sector providers or small groups of social workers. They will take on responsibility for all looked-after children services in those areas.
In October, the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 will create a vetting and barring scheme for people working with adults and children. The scheme will apply to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland has different arrangements.
The document that everyone is eagerly awaiting is the adult social care green paper, expected early this year. Will it deliver or will it fudge the issue of who pays for what and how?
Kate Groucutt, senior policy and public affairs officer at Carers UK, says it “needs to set out bold alternatives for the way we fund and provide care for our ageing population. At the moment too much responsibility is placed on families without the recognition and support they need”.
Scope wants a white paper to be published before a bill comes before parliament. Policy and campaign director Ruth Scott says this would allow a chance for pre-legislative scrutiny.
“We haven’t had access to a great deal of information particularly around the economics for reform, so it’s been difficult for us to suggest approaches,” she says.
“The abolition of the postcode lottery is important. And we would like to see a separation of funder and commissioner of services because people are being assessed on what the local authority can afford rather than what they need which creates an unfair system. Plus we want to see the ordinary residence rules abolished.”
One of the most important bills to go through parliament this year is the Equality Bill, which will bring together all equalities legislation in the UK.
Paul Cann, director of policy and external communications for Help the Aged, warns of complications. “Although legislation against ageism in some fields may be brought in relatively quickly, the government is indicating that legal protection in health and social care services will take longer,” Cann says.
“In health services, age discrimination can mean the difference between life and death so the government should review the timetable for regulations as a matter of urgency.”
Andrew Lee, director of learning disability organisation People First, says the government needs to practise what it preaches: “The Equality Bill needs to be translated into EasyRead and into different languages so people in the grassroots can understand it.”
Rethink wants the Equality Bill to include a provision to restrict the use of pre-employment questionnaires so that employers cannot ask about a candidates’ disability until after they have been offered the job.
There’s been much controversy about the Welfare Reform Bill, but its impact on older people often goes unrecognised.
A spokesperson for Age Concern England says: “It is more difficult for older people to get a job if they are made redundant. We are concerned that it doesn’t allow enough scope to support the specific needs of those who have been on incapacity benefit for a number of years because they genuinely can’t work.
“Evidence from the last recession shows that proportionately more older people lost their job and because of ageism in the workplace they found it harder to find another. We will need as many work-ready people in the workforce as possible to get over the recession and people with a lifetime of skills are an important part of the mix.”
Many of the short-term commitments in the national carers strategy are rolled out in April, including the £150m extra funding for breaks, mentioned in the NHS operating framework 2009-10 published last month. Primary care trusts will have to draw up joint breaks strategies with local authorities. Alex Fox, director of policy and communications at the Princess Royal Trust for Carers, says: “There is a real need for clarity from government for getting the NHS on board.”
Disability organisations are looking forward to the government fulfilling its pledge to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, probably in the spring.
Guy Parckar, public policy manager at Leonard Cheshire Disability, says: “The government is talking about ratifying it with reservations, meaning it would not be committed to adhering to all of the rights enshrined in the convention. The government should be signing up to it without reservations, and should sign the optional protocol that accompanies it.”
|AND THERE’S PLENTY MORE TO COME|
This month marks the end of the consultation on the Care Quality Commission enforcement policy, as well as an end to the consultation on No Secrets, guidance for safeguarding vulnerable adults. The government’s response to the latter is expected in April.
The long-awaited national dementia strategy should also be out early this year.
In the spring the government is planning to publish detailed ideas on reviewing Opportunity Age, its strategy for an ageing society.
Meanwhile, the Health Bill will introduce direct payments for health services and will extend the remit of the local government ombudsman to handling complaints from people who arrange their own adult social care services.
April is the deadline for the introduction of independent mental health advocates to protect the rights of people who are subject to community treatment orders, although charity Mind says a lack of government funding could mean delays.
The Savings Gateway Accounts Bill will introduce a system to encourage saving among lower income households.
The Immigration and Citizenship Bill, expected this month, places more emphasis than the previous plethora of legislation over the past 10 years on “earned citizenship”.
All social housing tenants are due to be consulted between now and March on how the Tenants Services Authority, which for the past month has been regulating social housing providers, will operate its inspection process.
To find out about policies and changes that are likely to affect the social care workforce this year go to www.communitycare.co.uk/2009