A group of social workers has requested to split off from their council and form a mutually-led social work practice, in order to put more focus on early intervention.
The Calderdale social workers, many of whom were newly qualified, asked to be allowed to set up a practice outside of the local authority so they could have more freedom to innovate.
Their aim is to reduce the number of people going through formal community care assessments by providing less formal help at an earlier stage. Social workers will be based in a “shop front” office in the centre of Halifax.
Social workers put in a request to break away from the council after visiting a similar practice in Shropshire. The Shropshire social workers explained how they had been able to improve community care assessments in a matter of days when it would have taken months in a traditional local authority setting.
Director of social services for Calderdale council, Bev Maybury, said social workers felt local authorities were bureaucratic organisations which couldn’t adapt and innovate quickly.
She said: “It’s about delegating trust and responsibility to the people who are actually delivering the service.
“Normally in a local authority, if you come up with an idea it has to go through several layers of agreement and be checked corporately. This just feels like a way to be much more pro-active and responsive,” she said.
The shop in the town centre
“We don’t want it to be seen as social services as such. We just want it to be the shop in the town centre where people can congregate, go for information, advice and guidance.”
She added it was important the mutual was based in premises not affiliated with the council like the social work offices or town hall.
The “shop front” in Halifax town centre will be staffed by 12 social workers, including two senior practitioners, and a team of volunteer peer mentors, who have experience of services themselves, to provide informal support.
Maybury said the hope was, by providing a lower level of support at a pre-eligibility stage, it would reduce or even eliminate their level of need for formal support in the future.
She said: “I used to think you didn’t need highly qualified staff at the beginning and you saved [that expertise] for further down the line as individuals become increasingly dependent, but I’ve completely changed my view.
“Around 88% of my budget is spent on care and that’s where I need to impact, so getting the right care at the right time, with quality social work at the beginning is really important.”
However, she added that while she believed there would be a positive financial benefit, this was not the main motivation: “It was really driven by the values of people working in the service and they were anxious not just to provide statutory services.”
Instead, the aim is to provide people with enough support without undertaking unnecessary assessments for cases when informal support in the community would be more appropriate.
The mutual, which is due to launch in the early summer, will run as a pilot for 12 months with staff seconded from the council. After a year the council will decide whether to run it as a legal entity that employs social workers in its own right.