Personalisation in children’s social work may increase bureaucracy, study finds

Research into one team's experiences also highlights that personalisation made social workers feel deskilled

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Personalisation may increase bureaucracy for children’s social workers, according to a study of one disability team’s experiences of introducing personal budgets.

The study by social sciences researcher Dr Emilie Whitaker focused on a children’s disability social work team in England during its first year of adopting personalisation.

She found that the task of translating needs assessments into budgets added “new layers of bureaucracy” to social workers’ jobs. The social workers said the process made them feel deskilled as professionals and reduced the time they could spend doing face-to-face work with families. “It’s an admin job,” said one social worker. “I mean we did social work, now we do costings.”

Burden on families

Social workers were also concerned about the burden personal budgets placed on families, such as doing financial reports every quarter and taking on the legal responsibilities of being an employer.

“It’s ok perhaps for those with a low-end level of need maybe, but not for those that have got a lot going on and it’s imposing more stress on the family,” said one social worker.

There was also concern within the team that personalisation’s promise of more choice for families could not be delivered due to the limited range of services available to use.

“Sometimes there’s just not a service for some young people then it’s hard because they’ve got a budget but they’ve got nothing to spend it on,” said one practitioner.

Nationwide

Whitaker told Community Care that while the study only looked at one team during the first year of it adopting personalisation, the same problems were likely to exist nationwide. “As long as there is a more general trend to bespoke support through a market form, I think these challenges are going to continue to materialise,” she said.

Whitaker also noted that the shortage of services for families to spend their budgets on might reflect existing problems in the social care system. “Perhaps that tells us that there simply aren’t enough personal assistants or services available in general, regardless of whether you take the route of personalisation or not,” she said.

Whitaker, who did the study for her PhD at the University of Birmingham but now lectures at Cardiff University, said she would like to revisit the study: “I would be very keen to follow up with that particular study because it was so new for them, so maybe they have found different ways of doing things to correct or ameliorate some of the challenges they had when I was with them.”

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