Unfinished business

Adult social care
It is set to be a milestone year for the future of adult social care. From the outset, the split between children’s and adults’ services will become more entrenched – April is the deadline by which councils need to have appointed children’s services directors, and many councils have already separated their children’s and adults’ departments.

But, perhaps more significantly, the government is to document its stance on the future role of social care in its joint white paper on health and social care, expected to be published this month to take forward the partnership agenda. Those in the social care sector can but wait to see how much of Independence, Well-being and Choice, the green paper on adult social care, succeeds in making it on to the next stage of the policy journey.

The green paper put a clear emphasis on individuals’ choice and independence, setting out plans for service users to be able to choose and buy the care that they need. Since its publication, the concept of individual budgets has already started to take shape, with 13 councils due to start pilots soon. It is also widely anticipated that the green paper’s focus on exercising choice, economic well-being and personal dignity will stay intact.

A good start, but not enough to allay professionals’ fears that the role of social care is soon to be diminished. The government has a big job on its hands to convince the sector that it is considered by those in power to be more than a bit on the side for health.

Last year ended with social care professionals still strongly opposed to section nine of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act 2004. Under the policy, failed asylum seekers who do not leave the country can have their benefits removed and, once destitute, their children taken into care. Such is the strength of feeling that in November the Association of Directors of Social Services wrote to councils asking them to put pressure on their MPs to end the policy, which they feel runs counter to human rights and principles of social care.

Mental health
Just when will the mental health bill make a reappearance? Granted, it was booed off when it moved centre stage in 2004 but the longer it hovers in the wings the more the audience is becoming suspicious – and expectant.

If an improved version is on the cards the delay will have been worthwhile; if the same controversial measures reappear the bill will be in for a rough ride through parliament. Those in the social care sector have made clear their views on mental health tribunals, community treatment orders and the abolition of the approved social worker role. But has the government listened?

Learning difficulties
A forward step was taken at the end of last year when the government announced the creation of the first national tsar for a person with learning difficulties. This year should see the appointment of the individual who will take on the one-day-a-week post, working alongside Rob Greig, the full-time learning difficulties tsar.

It can only be hoped that these two appointments will go some way to encouraging the aspirations set out in the policy document Valuing People – aspirations that, despite the passing of four years, have become little more than pie in the sky for too many people with learning difficulties. Whether the new tsars can provide enough of a kick up the backside remains uncertain; that one is needed is not.

Young people
The publication last year of the youth green paper, Youth Matters, focused attention on young people in a new way: for once they were considered as individuals with futures rather than as delinquents in the making. As well as the focus on providing opportunities and activities for young people, came a call for services to become more integrated and effective.

But that was the rhetoric and now the real work must begin. The thrust of the green paper must worm its way into concrete policies if it is to become anything more than just words.

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