Camden council’s adult social care teams are trialling a new social work role modelled on the Independent Reviewing Officers used in children’s services across the country.
The local authority is testing the post as part of a Department of Health (DH) pilot programme to give people with learning disabilities and their families a named social worker to help challenge NHS decisions about their care.
The DH has given the six councils taking part in the pilot flexibility in how they shape the named social worker role. A progress report published this week by the Innovation Unit and the Social Care Institute for Excellence reveals Camden has appointed two social workers to a new post “modelled on the Independent Reviewing Officer role in children’s services”.
‘Hold the system to account’
The IRO role in children’s services was established on a statutory basis in 2004. Councils must fill it with registered social workers with sufficient experience to perform the role’s functions, as set out in the Children Act 1989. Every child in care currently gets an IRO, who reviews their plan and attends meetings to make sure decisions are made in their best interests.
Camden’s IRO-equivalent in adult services will not be a statutory role but will take on similar functions. The social workers will regularly meet with people and families to “understand their hopes and difficulties”, and attend care and treatment reviews to “hold the system to account”, the report said.
The report also contains updates on the five other authorities involved in the pilot scheme:
- Hertfordshire council has appointed eight named social workers. The authority has co-designed the service with experts by experience. The social workers are “upskilling” their knowledge of community support options and finding user-centred ways to include the voice of services users in care planning, the report said.
- Calderdale has appointed four named social workers focused on working with young people, including eight who are in assessment and treatment units (ATUs). With inpatients, the social workers’ focus is “unjamming situations in which people are stuck in ATUs, in part by tackling medical assumptions about what works best”. The council’s overall ethos for the project is “shifting power from the state to individuals”.
- Liverpool has appointed three named social workers. The authority has tasked them with developing “new practice around assessment of inpatients” to better represent the voices of individuals and families voices.
- Nottingham has appointed two named social workers. Their key responsibilities include “gathering stories” from individuals and families on their experiences of the care system and testing new types of support. The team has so far struggled to engage other professionals, including health staff, in their work, the report said. This was partly due to the named social worker role not being statutory, it added.
- Sheffield plans for three social workers to take on the named social worker role but its pilot has been delayed due to problems backfilling posts.
The pilot runs until the end of March, after which each council’s project will be evaluated. The DH hopes the named social worker scheme will help strengthen community support for people with a learning disability and/or autism, and drive a “substantial reduction” in the number of inpatient admissions.
The move was first proposed in the learning disability green paper produced by the coalition government in March 2015. The Conservative government drew criticism for dropping the majority of the green paper options after coming into power, including proposals to strengthen legal rights for families.