Community-based practitioners should be charged with overhauling social care’s emphasis on crisis dependency by providing open access support to all who want it.
“Local area co-ordinators” (LACs) should become the new front-end of the social care system, supporting older or disabled people at the earliest stage, rather than waiting for them to deteriorate to the point of eligibility for formal care.
The call comes in a paper on local area co-ordination (LAC) published today by personalisation think-tank the Centre for Welfare Reform and written by Ralph Broad, director of Inclusive Neighbourhoods, which is promoting the use of LAC in England and Wales.
It said the current system asked people to prove their dependency and then provided services to address this. By contrast, LAC involved working with people to find non-service solutions to their problems that built on their strengths and networks, maintaining independence and delaying the need for services.
LAC, which originated in Western Australia, involves co-ordinators being appointed to support 50-65 older or disabled people in distinct local areas, with a focus on helping them stay independent, fulfil their goals and get more involved in their communities.
LAC services are commissioned by local authorities, though often provided externally by the voluntary sector; and the paper said they should be located in easy-to-access places and operate without a referral or eligibility system.
The paper said that co-ordinators needed a wide range of skills, including knowledge of the local community and its sources of support, helping people develop personal networks, advocacy, support planning and, particularly, relationship-building.
“Studies have repeatedly reinforced the importance to local people of the long-term, accessible and “face to face” nature of support”, it said.
Not community social work
While it pointed out that some co-ordinators were social workers, it stressed that LAC was “not merely community social work”, or an opportunity to “rebadge existing professional roles”.
The paper comes ahead of the government’s long-awaited White Paper on care and support, which care services minister Paul Burstow has made clear will voice strong support for initiatives such as LAC that focus on providing early intervention to help people stay independent.
However, it is unclear what the White Paper will do to aid the implementation of such initiatives, whether through pilot funding or other incentives for local authorities to adopt them.
In England, LAC services are currently operating or being developed in Middlesbrough, Derby, Cumbria and Stroud in Gloucestershire. LAC has been in operation in Scotland for over a decade, with over 80 co-ordinators currently employed; much of their work supports adults with learning disabilities though other client groups are also supported.
More on local area co-ordination