Crossover gives professionals a buzz

Every now and then a new buzzword appears in social care speak. Among the latest is “crossover”, a reference to hybrid jobs where practitioners work across two disciplines, such as across health and social care, and incorporate bits of each into everyday practice. As the boundaries between health, education and social care blur, these bridging roles are becoming more common, with practitioners now taking on tasks that before would have fallen to professionals from different backgrounds. Four people working in crossover roles explain what they think of this new way of working.

Penny Corsar, inclusion co-ordinator for children’s services, Hampshire Council
Penny Corsar supports families and schools to ensure children are included in education. Based at Staunton Park School in Havant, she has been in post for three and a half years after spending 10 years as a nursery nurse before qualifying with a DipSW in 1999. Her previous position was inclusion co-ordinator for Hampshire Council social services, which inspired her move.

She says: “Teachers and head teachers were saying they didn’t know how to deal with some of the issues children were coming to them with such as mental health problems, domestic violence and Asperger’s.”

Corsar created the family and school support team, which includes two social workers, four family support workers, a police inspector, a youth worker, an educational psychologist, a mental health worker, a school nurse and an education welfare officer. They meet weekly to discuss pupils aged four to 16 who have been referred to the service.

One of the challenges she faced in her crossover role was adapting to how schools operate. “It was about transferring social work skills and knowledge to an education setting and it took time to do this.”

Working in a crossover job has given Corsar more freedom than when she was employed solely by social services – then she had to focus on the statutory requirements of her role and had little time for flexible working. “In this role I’ve been able to work much more creatively and there is no one saying ‘we can’t do that’ whereas in social services there would be.”

The approach has been beneficial to her clients who are positive about her team’s intervention. The professionals in the team also value networking at the weekly meetings. “I even get other professionals ringing me and asking whether there are any jobs going.”

Aimee Astbury, occupational therapist, Sandwell Primary Care Trust
Last March, occupational therapist Aimee Astbury was seconded from Sandwell Primary Care Trust to Sandwell Council social services to do the same role. Her job is to assess the abilities of children and adults to perform everyday tasks, such as taking a shower, before deciding what equipment they may need.

Astbury says being able to visit clients in their homes has made a huge difference to her work: “When you are based in a hospital you don’t get a true picture of the person’s abilities.”
It also enables her to build a rapport with them and they can plan the intervention together. 

Astbury says her role allows clients’ short-term needs to be addressed – something she is familiar with, having worked in a hospital – as well as planning long term with social services.

Other professionals have responded positively to her as they are interested to hear how hospitals function. She says: “Social services’ view of how discharge worked has changed. One rehabilitation officer thought a hospital discharge officer was involved in every discharge but that’s not the case. I have raised awareness.”

Ann Marie Howell, vulnerable children team manager, Merton Council
The job Ann Marie Howell began in August 2003 is the epitome of a crossover role. It was created to co-ordinate the way that Merton Council social services works with education around children’s welfare.

As head of the vulnerable children team, Howell, who has a diploma and a degree in social work, works with the London borough’s 54 schools where there are concerns about pupils. Her remit is to reduce the number of children excluded from school and taken into care.

A lot of the work that Howell and her team – two of whom are funded by education and one by social services – do is crisis intervention, and good listening skills are essential.
Howell says: “It’s about using the same social care assessment framework in an education setting; it’s about the welfare of the child.”

She says her job is made easier by having access to social services data. Whenever a teacher asks about a pupil she types the details into her computer to cross-reference the social services files.

Although Howell is comfortable in her education-based job, her previous role, as senior social worker in a secondary school’s inclusion project, was less so. “I felt isolated there,” she recalls.

“Teachers would roll their eyes because I was an airy-fairy social worker concerned about the children’s feelings. Schools have come a long way in understanding that children have other issues to contend with than education.”

Having a joint role has enabled Howell to see both disciplines’ perspectives and the advantages of how each works with children. She prefers her crossover role to just working for social services: “Day in, day out you are continually doing child protection and you can get burned out quickly.”

Alice Hosking, project manager for integrated discharge team, Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust
Alice Hosking is based at Treliske Hospital in Truro and also covers the West Cornwall Hospital in Penzance. Her task is to redesign the hospitals’ discharge arrangements so they have an integrated admission and discharge team.

Previously, Hosking was a rapid assessment team leader for Cornwall Council, having worked in positions closely associated with health since qualifying as a social worker in 1993. She was seconded to the job – which runs until April – in October 2005.

Hosking admits there used to be a divide in Cornwall between health and social services but the tension is now easing. “We are moving towards a more collaborative way of working and partnership working has become a reality,” she says. Her role is being funded jointly by Cornwall Council social services and the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust.

One thing professionals working in crossover jobs have to remember is that both the disciplines they cover have the same goal. “It is the customer who needs the service and we have to work out a way together so we can provide it.” Those working across sectors also need to appreciate that practitioners from different disciplines face different issues – Hosking now understands the pressures that district nurses face and their objectives regarding patients.

“I love it because you get a far better outcome for patients,” she says.

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