Social workers Donna Fallows and Simon Cardy answer the question: Should independent GP-style social work practices be rolled out nationally?
Donna Fallows is a social worker in Evolve YP, an independent practice for looked-after children in Staffordshire
Evolve YP has shown how this model can work: it provides stability for staff and young people and gives us freedom to meet the needs of children.
It would work well in just about every client group in children’s services, except perhaps safeguarding – it’s helpful for a council to have an overview of all child protection services within a local area.
But it shouldn’t be compulsory – Evolve YP has been a success because we really wanted to do it. Managing our own business and being directly involved in decision-making gives social workers greater ownership of the processes, leading to high levels of enthusiasm and motivation.
Our staff are incredibly motivated, so there is less staff turnover – in the year Evolve YP has been operating no one has left – and quicker decision-making. Renting our own premises means we can have a building that is more personable and child-friendly than area offices. This has developed an ethos where young people drop into the premises in a way that probably wouldn’t happen at an area office. We’ve used this to run groups for looked-after young people and care leavers, and increase our performance of health assessments.
A criticism levelled at social work practices is that too much time is spent on bureaucracy and “running the business”. This isn’t true. Management of our own budget allows us to be more flexible; by putting in more effective admin support we have allowed our social workers to spend more time with young people and their families, and provide more effective support for care leavers.
Being a practice allows us to spend more time with young people, provide continuity and achieve the best outcomes.
Simon Cardy is a local authority social worker in a looked-after children’s team and speaks on behalf of the Social Work Action Network
Independent social work practices are a classic Trojan horse: presented as one thing but in reality are something else.
First, we need to demolish the idea that quasi-market ideas and business thinking should be part of social work values. A telling statement in one of the official documents suggests that social work practices will provide “opportunities for social workers to learn commercial and enterprise skills”. This shows that supporters of this model are out of step of current thinking in which there has been a resurgence of interest in social work values. Entrepreneurialism is not one of them.
Second, in the never-ending search for new markets and profits, finance capital is being strategic. We only have to look at how private US companies such as United Health are trying to take over GP practices to see what might happen to social work practices. Why give them that chance?
Third, the debate on social work practices has sought to occupy the moral terrain that social workers will have more of a sense of ownership, spend more time with children and face less bureaucracy. We ought to be looking at the contracts and their implications for vulnerable children.
The Social Work Action Group challenges Evolve YP and the other pilots to publish their contracts, in the interests of transparency and openness. The point about the contracts is that they are consistent with the idea that owners of enterprises, be they private or social, should be exposed to risk and reward in much the same way as private industry. We don’t accept this. As the Blackburn with Darwen pilot found, it’s not worth that risk.
Your views on independent practices
● CB: I wish the government would look at the lessons of the past. British Rail was hardly a successful privatisation and the increase of market forces in the adult social care “arena” has led to poorer services at higher costs with profits being creamed off to companies like Care UK, whose chairman has paid a huge donation to Andrew Lansley. I think we should be wary of this.
● Copperbird: I think it’d be a positive step on the whole. Maybe private practices/could/find better ways of working that would be both more efficient and better for the people they work with if they had more freedom, and small organisations tend to be more agile anyway. Plus you could imagine very specialist practices which would be free to focus on specific areas and develop expertise in them.
● Hound: While the pilots may be on a not-for-profit basis, I don’t think it would be too long before for-profit was made a possibility. Why do I see this as a problem? Because legally a private company has a duty to maximise shareholder value, and then you are looking at the interests of the service users being compromised in a way that they aren’t when things operate in public ownership.
● Dave Hill, Sanctuary Personnel: It’s likely the social work practice agenda will be overtaken by the trend towards the wholesale outsourcing of adult social care. In the process, I hope the debate will return to whether practices are a good professional delivery model.
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