On the cliff face

 For the user, the transition from children to adults’ social services has been likened to falling off a cliff. Blighted by poor planning, lack of interagency communication, lost care plans and changing personnel, it is an uncertain time that leaves many young care users isolated and confused.

This confusion is being shared by many social care professionals, who are wondering how the reorganisation of both child and adult social services will affect those who pass between the two. With most councils deciding to split their children’s and adults’ services into two separate departments, the concern is that the cliff face could become even steeper.

Nevertheless, the new arrangements also promise to lower as many barriers as they raise, and there may be opportunities to improve communication between these services to help young people make the transition.

The amalgamation of education and children’s social services departments under the new directors of children’s services offers scope

to improve communication between schools and social services. Such an improvement is sorely needed. Despite the legal requirement for education authorities to arrange transition review meetings for all pupils with special education needs (SEN) once they reach the age of 14, as many as one in five SEN pupils currently leave school with no transition plan in place.

The 2002 study Bridging the Divide, which surveyed the families of young people with learning difficulties, found that many transition plans were “ad-hoc, confused and uncoordinated”.(1) And almost half the young people had little or no involvement in the planning for their future and it made little difference to what happened after they left school whether they had a transition plan or not.

Robina Mallet, one of the study authors and a carer support officer at the Home Farm Trust, a charity that supports people with learning difficulties, believes things have improved since the publication although it is difficult to gauge to how much practical effect.

“Our report came out before a lot of the recent consultations, and my impression is that a lot of good work has been done in this area since. Here in Bristol for instance there’s a drop-in centre that helps young people going through transition, and a lot of areas now have transition teams. That’s a good step forward but it’s difficult to say how effective it’s been.”

She adds that one major disappointment has been the Connexions service, which was expected to ensure that every young person had a personal adviser to help them negotiate leaving school and enter adult life. This chimed with a key recommendation in Bridging the Divide calling for each family to have a named co-ordinator to help with the transition process.

“The hope was that Connexions would provide these personal advisers universally, but that doesn’t seem to have happened,” says Mallett.

However, she remains hopeful that once the dust has settled on the various reorganised departments, the importance of improved communication will remain a high priority.

Other morsels of hope for the transition process are also to be found in last year’s green paper on adult social care. This stresses the importance of involving young people in planning the services they will receive as adults. In a move that could prove hugely influential, it recommends that the new directors of adult social services become champions of the transition process.
The paper states that directors of adult social care services play a key role “in ensuring the arrangements are in place to support individuals during the transition between different services, to ensure multi-agency co-ordination and a seamless pathway”.

The green paper’s proposals to extend direct payments and develop individual budgets could also be of significance to the transition process especially if, as recommended by the British Institute of Learning Disabilities (Bild), they are extended to disabled children and their families.

Bild chief executive Keith Smith said during the green paper consultation that such a move would better enable the culture change required to alter the supports available to these service users and address many of the difficulties associated with transition.

He added: “Flexible, individualised support systems could be developed which are person-centred and could adapt and change into adulthood. That would be better than relying upon young people fitting into a small menu of existing adult services.”

As BILD advocacy project worker Aseia Rafique points out, young people going through the transition process often feel lost in a system:

“It can be a very difficult time. You are becoming an adult and you want to make your own choices but a lot of people  seem to be making decisions on your behalf.”

For these care users the current organisational reshuffling bears little relevance to their day-to-day experience of the transition process. 

According to Andrew Cozens, the Improvement and Development Agency’s new strategic adviser for children, adult and health services, many end users and care professionals may not initially even notice the difference. “There’s been a preoccupation with restructuring,” he says. “At ground level I think services are coming together in something like their former selves.”

Cozens, who defines his role as sitting between central and local government trying to ensure that each understands what the other is doing, is a former president of the Association of Directors of Social Services. He has been both a social services director and an interim director of education and lifelong learning.

While he acknowledges that splitting adults’ and children’s social services could be seen as creating a boundary between the two, he does not envisage any unforeseen problems.

Cozens adds: “The scenario that has always bothered us is  where there are parents who are also users of the mental health services or other suchlike service. But that scenario has been around for years. Most social services departments have been split along child and adult lines for years so we are used to the problem.”

(1) Bridging the Gap, British Institute of Learning Disabilities, 2002

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