Community Care and Unison’s 2011 personalisation survey found social workers needed advice on supporting service users to employ a personal assistant. Independent social worker Kelly Hicks offers some guidance
Employing a personal assistant is one of the most empowering routes to ensuring that a service user remains in control of the support they receive. But there are many myths about the complexity of becoming an employer and some valid challenges to practitioners aiming to support people through the process.
● Belief: Social workers’ own beliefs about the process can influence a service user when choosing whether they wish to become an employer. The initial discussion between the two is crucial for the client to realise their potential.
● Time: Practitioners’ workloads combined with the target-driven culture tend to be given higher priority than supporting people to employ PAs. It is quicker and easier to phone an agency to arrange support.
● Knowledge: It is daunting to be faced with the complexities of employment law, insurance liability, PAYE and national insurance. Social workers feel uncomfortable having to give information on areas in which they are not skilled.
There are several ways to overcome these problems.
● Be positive and present the benefits and the support available to become an employer.
● Never presume that a service user would not wish to become an employer.
● Have faith in users being best placed to control their support.
Time and knowledge
● Dedicate a morning to researching local support. You will be amazed to find out how many services offer help with recruitment, interviewing, writing job descriptions and payroll.
● Include the service user and their family and friends in finding out what is available. Most want to be involved.
● Gather a resource pack with sample job descriptions for PAs; there is a wealth of information available on the internet.
● Use your person-centred planning skills and find resources to help users think about the kind of staff they would like.
● Compile a list of user contacts who are happy to share their experiences with someone considering becoming an employer.
● Be involved throughout the process. You will be amazed how much you learn by meeting the payroll agency.
● Remember you do not have to be an employment law specialist. You just need to know where to find one.
However, there are other issues social workers ought to be aware of.
Social workers need to support the individual to plan for the unexpected and have contingency plans in place. It is surprising how many agencies will provide holiday cover when this is planned in advance. Equally, emergency cover can be agreed if the agency has met and assessed the individual as someone who may contact them for emergency cover.
Kelly Hicks is head of independent brokerage service Personalisation Plus
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This article is published in the 6 October 2011 edition of Community Care under the headline “Conquer the personal assistant maze”