Reviews are torture

I hope your article marking the 100th joint
review report (“One heavy load”, 15 November) will spark a debate
about the role they have played in shaping social services at the
start of the 21st century. There is no doubt that they have been
agents for change, but not necessarily for the good.

The arrival of the joint review team is akin
to a visit from the Spanish inquisition with senior managers and
councillors keenly aware that they must show a commitment to
shaping the future as envisaged by the reviewers. Resistance is
viewed as further evidence of inability or unwillingness to change.
The language of review reports has become the “new speak” of senior
managers who are keenly aware that denunciation by the review team
can adversely effect their careers.

I believe that a bias against the public
sector lies at the heart of many review reports. Reports have been
scathing of councils judged not to have moved quickly enough to
“outsource” or privatise key services. They have also in some cases
criticised the conditions of service enjoyed by relatively poorly
paid workers such as home carers as over-generous and encouraged
councils to run down their in-house provision in favour of cheaper
private providers. Nationally there is a growing crisis in home
care, caused chiefly by the relentless pressure to drive down costs
at the expense of quality.

If the government continues to view the work
of the joint reviews as the engine of change in delivering improved
social services it will be in deep trouble.

Donal Mullally

NSPCC is doing more

The NSPCC is providing greater protection for
children at risk of harm not less (Editorial comment, 22 November).
The Full Stop campaign has enabled us to develop many more
projects, employ more staff and help more vulnerable children than
ever before.

After a period of rapid growth and development
we have reviewed all our services to ensure we are focusing our
resources effectively. We would be rightly criticised if we did not
manage the allocation of voluntary donations and statutory funding
properly. We are not withdrawing from any local authority. We are
not reducing our spending. We will employ more staff not less.

We gave notice that we were doing a review. In
those few cases where we are closing a centre we are not
necessarily closing all of the service. All this will be carefully
managed locally. We wish to proceed on the basis of strong local
partnerships to which we can give secure commitment. This is the
whole purpose of the alignment process.

Our national services have been significantly
enhanced. We now have a group of specialist investigation services.
The 24-hour child protection helpline is available to anyone
concerned about a child across the UK. It provides services in
Asian languages (recently launched), Welsh and for those with
hearing impairment, as well as by e-mail. The child protection in
sport unit (also recently launched) ensures, through our
partnership with Sport England, that children are safeguarded in
sport. Such protection was not there before.

Our role is to offer specialist expertise and
services to statutory agencies as part of a multi-agency system to
protect children from abuse and support vulnerable children and
families. Our services have been aligned so that they can make the
most useful contribution at those points of the system where they
are most needed and where we can demonstrate innovative, different
approaches. Vulnerable children are not “paying the price” of our
independence. They are reaping the rewards of it.

Mary Marsh
Director and chief executive

Confused advocacy

There is a fundamental problem of conflict of
interest, actual or perceived, when a social worker employed by a
statutory service provider acts as an advocate (Welfare Rights, 8

While a social worker can practise advocacy,
it must be recognised that, for example, the arrangement of
services, child protection duties, or applying for compulsory
hospitalisation prevent them from being truly independent. This
failure to recognise the need for independence is exemplified in
your writer’s comments about the advocate “acting in the best
interests” of the client.

Generally, except in situations where the
client lacks capacity to communicate their wishes, the advocate’s
role is to represent and advocate clients’ own views, whether or
not they are perceived as in their “best interests”.

At a time when joint commissioning and the
approach of care trusts are merging health and social care, there
is even greater need for the recognition of independent advocacy
providers to fill this role properly.

Statutory services should be facilitating the
availability of independent advocates rather than promoting their
own limited role in advocacy.

Audrey Ludwig
Advocacy legal adviser, Mind

Jonathan Coe
Director, Westminster Mental Health Advocacy Project.

Terry Simpson
Co-ordinator, United Kingdom Advocacy Network

All the above are members of the
Mental Health Alliance Advocacy Group

Not such hot advice

I hope that Edith, the case study in your
article on Care Direct (“Welfare hotline”, 15 November) was not in
fact advised by social services that she may be entitled to invalid
care allowance.

Edith would not be entitled to ICA for two
reasons. Firstly, because she is 80 and current claimants must be
under 65 and secondly, because the benefit can only be claimed by
carers, not the person they care for.

Thankfully, the Department for Work and
Pensions is making two significant changes to ICA. The name will
also be changed to carer’s allowance, which will hopefully help to
clear up confusion about whose benefit this is.

Diana Whitworth
Chief executive
Carers Uk

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