A vision for the future

There is no doubt that yet more change is on the way for social
care. But there is a danger that it may once more be driven by a
mixture of government’s managerial ideology and public and
professional grief and anger – the forces that have worked their
mischief on social care’s structures before, with mixed

Professionals, particularly those in social services departments,
feel increasingly undervalued and powerless to influence the
direction of change. Not just because of poor pay, intolerable
workloads and a lack of support from managers and the public, but
because the aims and values of the service seem to have been
subjugated to the need to meet targets and ration services. Even
where specific targets tally with obviously positive outcomes for
those using the service, they are felt to restrict creative
practice and to predefine outcomes – thus denying the principle of
responsiveness to individual needs.

Social services appear to have a diminishing influence over social
care in the widest sense. In adult services, the future of social
care is discussed in terms of the NHS. And for children, support
for vulnerable families now largely resides in new initiatives
aimed at overcoming social exclusion. Meanwhile, the future of
child protection is in the balance, with the report of the Victoria
Climbi’ Inquiry now delayed, and ideas buzzing around government
departments which, if they eventually become concrete proposals,
threaten to pre-empt its recommendations.

Yet the aims of the Seebohm report in 1968, which brought social
services departments into being, are still relevant. It emphasised
the importance of involving citizens in the development and
delivery of services. It acknowledged the importance of gaining the
commitment of the whole community and of fostering a recognition
that everyone benefits from good social services, not just those
who directly receive them. It aimed to do much more than intervene
in crises.

Why have Seebohm’s ideals not been put into practice? For many
within social care, the answer will seem simple: they have never
been given enough resources to make them work. And the truth of
that is undeniable, particularly since the late 1980s. But it is
also true that demand has increased and will continue to do so.

The empowerment of service users, particularly flowing from the
social model of disability, which is more far-reaching than
anything Seebohm proposed, must also be allowed to increase. We now
have a structure in which mainstream social services are under
intolerable pressure, while some of Seebohm’s aims are met by
initiatives such as Sure Start, which allocate resources according
to need rather than risk.

So the lessons from social care’s past and the questions about its
future are not just about resources. And unless we start by
identifying the aims and values of social care, the risks of
imposing further structural change – of undermining those ideals
still further – are too great.

That is why the Association of Directors of Social Services and
Community Care commissioned the New Visions project from the
Institute for Public Policy Research.

ADSS president Mike Leadbetter says: “In the midst of the plethora
of ever-increasing demands placed on social care, we needed to take
a step back from the pressures and look at our future. Clearly this
involves risk. We expect to support many of the ideas and
recommendations. With some we will inevitably disagree.

“We expect the report to encourage a debate about social care,
thoughtful reflection on the future of social work and, crucially,
begin to instil a belief that we can and should assume much greater
influence and control over the future direction of our profession.”

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