Support from social workers ‘essential’ in helping learning disabled people into work, finds study

Practitioners need time and backing from senior managers to put employment at heart of support planning, says evaluation of Jobs First scheme

Learning disabled person filling in form
Picture posed by models (Photo: Photofusion/Rex)

The support and encouragement of social workers is ‘essential’ in helping learning disabled people into work, research has found.

Care managers have a crucial role in raising the possibility of employment as a realistic goal for people during assessments and support planning, said the evaluation of the Department of Health’s Jobs First Scheme.

“Where care managers expressed enthusiasm, this was very influential,” said the report by King’s College London’s Social Care Workforce Research Unit. “Where this was thought to be lacking, it formed a serious impediment to progress in supporting people with learning disabilities to get paid jobs.”

Jobs First was designed to test how personal budgets, combined with non-social care funding streams, and focusing assessment and support planning on achieving employment outcomes, could help people with moderate to severe learning disabilities into work. The scheme ran fully in five areas, each of whom recruited up to 20 people to take part, from April 2010 to October 2011.

Professionals needed to enthuse learning disabled people and their families to create a climate in which seeking paid work was the norm, said the evaluation. But while social workers were overwhelmingly positive about the value of paid work to people with learning disabilities, views varied as to the possibility of people obtaining work.

Barriers reported by practitioners included low expectations of employment among people with learning disabilities and their families and a reluctance to seek work or work for more than 16 hours a week because of the impact on benefits.

Problems signing off support plans

In addition, social workers faced problems getting support plans that were more expensive than the indicative personal budget signed off and adults’ services departments struggled to prioritise employment support given the wider pressure on social care budgets.

The evaluation said the backing of senior management was critical in supporting social workers to focus on employment in support plans with people with learning disabilities. Without this, it was unlikely to become embedded in mainstream practice, said the report.

It recommended that senior managers make explicit requirements for practitioners to focus on employment with service users and ensure that employment support is seen as a legitimate goal in resource allocation decisions.

The evaluation also recommended that councils’ adult services departments and Jobcentre Plus work together to support people with learning disabilities into employment, including by providing joint funding and ensuring an adequate supply of independent and public sector supported employment services.

The study found people with learning disabilities in work were still likely to need social care to meet some of their other needs, but that these may reduce as a result of being in work. For example, they may develop greater social skills particularly when working for more than 16 hours a week. However, it said they were likely to need sustained employment support in order to retain a job.

Rob Greig, chief executive of research and consultancy body the National Development Team for Inclusion (NDTi), said early findings of its own research into employment support found some councils took the issue more seriously than others. He said: “There is evidence some local authorities are taking employment seriously as an option, but many do not appear to view it as a priority and there is a lot of ambivalence about whether someone getting a job is the responsibility of social services or Jobcentre Plus.”

NDTi is carrying out research into the use of personal budgets for employment support  and is completing a study on employment support for disabled people, almost all of whom have mental health problems or learning disabilities.

About the research

The study, carried out by Martin Stevens and Jess Harris of King’s College London, drew on data from all five sites to complete the Jobs First programme: Herefordshire, Leicester, Newham, Northamptonshire and North Tyneside. Data were analysed for 76 Jobs First clients and a comparison group of 40 people with learning disabilities who had not gone through the scheme. In addition, researchers interviewed 26 of the clients, 13 family carers and 70 managers and practitioners. The key questions the study posed were:

  • Does the Jobs First approach make a difference to employment outcomes compared with standard services?
  • What were the cost implications of the Jobs First approach compared with standard services?
  • What practice and policy issues are raised by implementing Jobs First?
  • How do learning disabled people experience Jobs First as impacting on their lives?

The report said there were three limitations to the study that may have increased the apparent positive impact of Job First:

  • the sites were chosen on the basis of their strong progress with personal budgets;
  • sites selected people to be in the Jobs First scheme, as opposed to the comparison group, on the basis of their enthusiasm for employment;
  • some people dropped out of the scheme.
  • In addition, some sites returned limited data, reducing the ability to make comparisons. This was particularly true in relation to the impact of personal budgets, and more research was needed in this area, said the study.

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One Response to Support from social workers ‘essential’ in helping learning disabled people into work, finds study

  1. Edna January 30, 2014 at 1:46 pm #

    This is another area where I have detailed knowledge/ experience and this article is lopsided in favouring social work as important. I can tell you that many agencies who work with learning disabled are involved and need to be involved to make work a reality for this group.

    Social workers are not the experts in assessing for occupation / work. The research is only highlighting a need to adress this at some level when undertaking care assessments and the fact that support at management level for this makes this possible for the inexperienced social worker to even explore this issue seriously.