Local area coordinator scheme makes ‘best use of social work’, says council

Coordinators help social workers to find community-based solutions to problems and reduce adult social care referrals, evaluation finds

A local authority’s use of ‘local area coordinators’ has been successful in improving community support for people deemed ineligible for statutory adult social care services, an evaluation has found.

According to Thurrock council’s evaluation of the scheme, social workers also felt that the local area coordinators had helped find solutions to ‘some conundrums’ they’d faced in cases and felt that training with the coordinators had boosted partnership working with service users.

The ‘local area coordinators’ come from a range of backgrounds, including an ex-social worker, housing professionals and a fire-service employee who has been seconded to the scheme. They offer two levels of support – level one involves the provision of information and advice, while level two is for people who require longer-term assistance in building relationships, self-sufficiency and planning for the future. The local authority says that the project helps “make the best use” of social work by ensuring social workers can focus on complex cases.

Thurrock introduced the scheme 14 months ago and sees it as a key part f the council’s prevention strategy to bring services in line with the requirements of the Care Act. At the time of the evaluation, local area coordinators worked with 256 people between the ages of 18 and 98. The largest user group was older people (31%), closely followed by mental health (27%).

The evaluation found coordinators had been successful in helping people to find practical solutions to problems, which would otherwise requires social services funded support. Examples included 19 people who were supported to find alternatives to local authority day care and 18 people who were supported to build links to their local communities through volunteering. This included facilitating one person to deliver training on his experience of living with depression to student social workers in the council’s workforce planning team.

A high number of introductions to the project have come from adults who have experienced mental ill health and became isolated and lost work opportunities as a result. They wanted support following crisis, when traditionally services would be withdrawn.

The local area coordinators focused on reducing isolation by linking people to social groups, as well as finding opportunities for them to share their skills, such as gardening, with others. Over 90 of these individuals had been supported to re-engage with their communities or family and friends and in some cases this also reduced visits to their GP, the evaluation found.

Tania Sitch, service manager for adult social care, told Community Care that local area coordinators had also added value to social work practice due to their expert knowledge of local communities.

She said: “Social workers may not always have the community knowledge these workers have. The local area coordinators know all the people to contact and can help connect them to individuals.”

Sitch added the scheme was helping to make “the best use of social work” because it freed up social workers to focus on their specialisms, such as managing a mental health crisis.

She said: “In many cases, the coordinators are getting to people before they would be referred to a social worker. Preventing them from needing social work saves it for what it’s really there for.”

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