The best under review

I agree with Donal Mullally (Viewpoint, 28
March) that one of the major challenges facing social services
departments is how to make the best use of scarce resources.

Best Value is meant to assist this process. A
recent publication that Joint Reviews, the Social Services
Inspectorate and the Association of Directors of Social Services
have produced – Getting the Best from Best Value – shows how many
local authorities are using Best Value to help them.

Issues such as “commissioning” are critical,
as councils need to know the needs they have to meet, the resources
available and the type of services required to meet those needs.
Managers need to be able to plan ahead. These are tasks that must
be carried out irrespective of the supplier of these services. It
is important to determine the “shape” of the service before
deciding on who should provide it. Hanging on to particular
institutions even where they have served people well in the past
may not be the solution.

Outsourcing social care has been undertaken at
a steady rate over the past decade with various degrees of success.
Voluntary organisations have continued to pioneer new services and
the private sector has diversified into new service areas. This
does not remove control from councils. They are as responsible for
the services they buy outside the department, as they are
responsible for the services they manage. It is where councils
don’t take this responsibility that things can go wrong.

Joint review reports regularly focus on best
practice and important aspects of the quality of social care. We do
challenge authorities to justify high costs where the standard of
care does not warrant these. We also suggest that changing the
pattern of service delivery may improve outcomes for service

John Bolton
The Joint Review team

Benchmark standards

Nigel Walker’s useful six stages for drawing
up contracts for care services (“Pleasing everyone all the time”,
28 March) could be enhanced by the use of National Occupational
Standards to describe the service to be offered.

The NOS are best known as the “competences”
for care NVQs and social work qualifications, but they have a wide
range of strategic and operational management uses too.

They are statements of user-focused best
practice in care work, and so provide a benchmark which can be used
by both contracting parties, with the advantage that the contracted
work is described in the same terms as the particular competences
of the care staff involved.

Richard Banks
Principal, Standards and Qualification Framework
TOPSS England

Keep it in the family

The discussions about paying grandparents to
provide child care reach deeper than Stephen Burke of the Daycare
Trust gives credit for (News, page 14, 28 March).

Grandparent care is not a sticking plaster,
but should be considered good practice, and especially beneficial
for children from ethnic minority families, single parent families
or families on low income.

The system currently minimises the
contribution to child care made by family members, certainly for
single parents, who are urged back to work or who need to work.
They are directed by benefit agencies to registered childminders
with little consideration given to the religious or cultural needs
of preschool children. This devalues the contribution that
grandparents can make. If parents on low incomes select care by
family, they are not allowed to claim financial assistance.

Grandparents are able to offer care that
includes family history, values, standards and beliefs. They would
also probably care for children who are unwell and offer more
flexibility; for example, the grandparent could visit the child’s
home or have the children to sleep over with them.

There is more to do than simply stating there
is a shortage of childminders. Valuing grandparents and the
commitment and benefit they can offer is surely the way

Elinor Simpson
Leamington Spa

No to more role models

Yvonne Roberts’s suggestion that black men
regard climbing the ladder as a betrayal of being black or that
black people require yet more role models is both insulting and
racist (Yvonne Roberts, 4 April).

From Mandela to Tyson everyone appears to be
held up as either a good or bad role model by the white media.

What is required is better practice rather
than this nonsensical argument. What evidence does Yvonne Roberts
have to offer? Very little it seems, other than her own skewed
views about what affects young black men.

Thousands of young black men pass through
school with good grades, hold down jobs, and so on. Indeed, there
are black men who commit crime: yes, it may come as a surprise to
some that we are ordinary people too.

As a black social worker I am always surprised
to hear social workers talk of “young black men” as a group – I am
different from the next black man and so on. The only things that
unify us as a group are the lack of opportunities, and

The “magnets” to attract young people to
social work, regardless of their race, are better pay, good
practice and innovation.

Michael Cole

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