Burstow urges social workers to overhaul ‘crisis’ care system

The care services minister has put social workers at the heart of his plans to transform social care from a "high-dependency service" to one that supports people to stay independent.

Minister Paul Burstow says social workers are critical to the success of his care reforms
Minister Paul Burstow says social workers are critical to the success of his care reforms

Social workers will be at the heart of plans to transform social care from an “unsustainable, crisis service” to one based on promoting well-being, through the forthcoming White Paper.

That was the message from care services minister Paul Burstow in a speech to Community Care Live yesterday, in which he said social workers’ role would shift from care managing and brokering services for those who meet eligibility thresholds towards helping people avoid the need for formal care and support altogether. This would be through working with older and disabled people to build community networks and use their strengths and assets to reduce isolation, build resilience and help people live active, fulfilling lives.

“Some people call it local area co-ordination, some call it connected care and others call it asset-based community development, he said. “Simply put, it is a vision for social work that is no longer based on [reacting] in a crisis.” While this was not about “prescribing practice”, Burstow said the government was determined to see this approach to social work spread beyond the “few areas” where it currently exists.


While he did not specify how the government’s support for this approach would be articulated in the White Paper and the consequent draft bill on social care reform, he said social work would be “critical” to their success. Burstow admitted that local authorities faced pressures on their adult care budgets, but said that this meant “acting as a high-dependency, crisis service [was] unsustainable”, and that it was necessary to “radically change the way we think about and deliver social care in a way that chimes with the asset-rich approach”.

Association of Directors of Adult Social Services president Sarah Pickup also called for a switch in council resources towards prevention, in a subsequent session on the White Paper yesterday.

“We will always spend most of our budget on people with the highest needs – those with lifelong learning disabilities or people with dementia who need 24-hour care,” she said. “But we need to push enough of our budget into prevention and reablement to prevent people who shouldn’t need ongoing care from having to receive it.”

However, unlike Burstow, Pickup said social workers’ skills were best deployed in working with people with the highest needs to make choices and lead more fulfilling lives.

Concerns were expressed at the conference about councils reducing social workers’ roles in adult care. However, Pickup said: “If you are working with troubled families or supporting people with lifelong conditions to have the best possible life, this requires social work skills.”

“There’s a lot of work to do; the biggest pressure on our budgets is in learning disabilities” she added. “There’s no danger of social workers being written out of the script.”

The approaches Burstow is advocating



  • Local area co-ordination involves a practitioner working in particular localities to help individuals (about 50-65 at any one time) build confidence and independence and fulfil their goals, by building relationships with them, providing information and connecting them with community resources. It has been rolled out in Scotland and is being tested in some areas in England and Wales.
  • Asset-based community development involves practitioners mapping and mobilising the “assets” within a community, particularly the skills and knowledge of residents and the full range of community groups, to affect positive changes. More information is available from the Scottish Community Development Centre.
  • Connected care has been developed by social care organisation Turning Point to involve members of communities in designing services around their needs, in partnership with commissioners and practitioners.

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