Letters 31 July. Cafcass cuts, personal assistants, mental health champion, Hackney reorganisation…

Cafcass expanding, not cutting frontline

Your article about cuts in Cafcass staff (news, p8, 24 July) was misleading in its reference to “Cafcass halving its spend on self-employed guardians, family court reporters and other advisers in the past seven years”.

While you are right that we have cut spend on self-employed contractors, we have maintained the same numbers of employed family court advisers since 2003.

We have also budgeted for and recruited 72 new family support workers in the past two years and plan to recruit another 74 over the next year, which will give a total of about 150 new practitioners in all.

Rather than cuts, we are in a period of moderate expansion – necessary because of the demands upon our front-line staff. I know I should never let the facts get in the way of a good story, but if our work is supposed to be increasingly evidence-based, so should the journalism about it.

Your reference, and Nagalro’s, to us losing very experienced staff, wrongly implies our employed workforce may be less experienced. Most of our new family court advisers come from councils, for whom they have been working for many years, usually at least five but often double that, since qualifying.

We do have many difficulties in Cafcass, as all frontline organisations do. But one thing we are not doing is cutting staff numbers, and I would not want any of your readers to think that.

Anthony Douglas CBE, Chief Executive, Cafcass

Hackney not radical

The experiment by Hackney Council (“Better off at the frontline,” 17 July) described as “radical” is no such thing.

The concept of a senior social worker with a higher grade and pay with a mix of casework and managerial responsibilities is old. What is clear is that there has been high staff turnover with unfilled vacancies and no discernable improvement in the quality of social work practice. This doesn’t sound like “reclaiming social work”.

The Hackney experiment will fail because social workers will not be flattered by extra pay and the title of “consultant” into working in one of the most challenging areas of the country without major increases in budgets, adequate investment by other agencies and fluent multi-disciplinary practice.

Steven Walker, Senior social work lecturer, Anglia Ruskin University

Cabinet champion plan not ‘elitist’

It is unclear whether Martin Ball, who criticises the “elitist” call from a coalition of mental health organisations for a mental health champion at Cabinet level (letters 10 July, referring to news story), has read the coalition’s A New Vision For Mental Health discussion paper? It also calls for service users to be able to make decisions for themselves, and control the planning and delivery of their own care and support – precisely the approach Ball advocates.

We need radical action to promote better mental health at all levels. A Cabinet-level champion would help focus efforts on creating the best conditions for people with mental health problems to empower themselves.

This needs to happen with health services, at work, at school and in everyday life. There’s nothing elitist about joined-up government working effectively in the public interest.

The paper can be downloaded from our website www.newvisionformentalhealth.org.uk and we would welcome your comments.

Simon Lawton-Smith, Head of policy, The Mental Health Foundation/Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities

Backing for Compact

Alongside the commissioner’s review of the legal status of the Compact and the commission itself (news in brief, p9, 17 July) there will also be an independent legal analysis and review of the Compact’s BME code.

The analysis and review being undertaken by Karon Monaghan QC is to ensure the BME code remains relevant

We welcome this legal review and are delighted that the commission is considering taking action to strengthen it. We are engaging with ethnic minority voluntary groups aiming to gain a fairer deal for them in delivering services to discriminated and often marginalised communities.

Vandna Gohil, Director, Voice4Change England

Elusive partnerships

So it would seem that partnership working in inter-professional education (IPE) is elusive as partnership working elsewhere (“Training together to work together”, 17 July).

My limited experience is that in developing new ways of integrated working some form of IPE is a necessity. But all too often I have encountered what is exemplified in the evaluation of the Leeds New Types of Worker pilot which concluded that “senior managers in Leeds SSD and West PCT… did not anticipate resistance within and across the primary care trusts” (see http://www.newtypesofworker.co.uk).

The Putting People First juggernaut makes it imperative that the contribution of IPE in reducing the impact of professional boundaries is assessed.

The Adult Social Care Workforce Strategy – Interim Statement paper rightly says key bodies in health, social care, housing etc, should adopt “integrated working practices that offer the potential for better service outcomes”. It calls for responses by 12 September.

Pete Feldon, Workforce development consultant, Feldonconsulting Ltd

The trouble with employing PAs

Simon Heng’s column (“Careless? No, just needy,” 10 July) clarifies the reality for us as disabled people of employing personal assistants and explains partly why CRB checks are not undertaken as often as some might expect. But there are three other points to be made.

First, people should not assume that having support from a private domiciliary agency is always satisfactory – in fact it can sometimes put us in vulnerable situations. I know a disabled person who had a care assistant to accompany her away from home and was concerned when the “experienced driver” she had requested said as she joined a motorway that she had “never driven on a motorway before”!

Worse followed when the worker consistently failed to do as the disabled person requested. For example, she would not agree to put the wheelchair at the side of the bed as support. As a result the disabled person fell out of bed.

Secondly, at least we can pay PAs higher rates because we do not have agency overheads to pay if we employ assistants directly. While direct payment users often have different rates for agency or employing their own staff, it is still possible to pay them more than the agency does. This also means we are able to recruit from a wider range of people.

Thirdly, disabled people have been employing their own assistants for many years and developed effective support systems to meet these needs – the model of Centres for Independent Living. These user-led bodies are now held up by the government as desirable in every council area. We know that people employing their own assistants need a variety of support to be effective employers – peer support, training, payroll services etc.

Yet since direct payments became widespread, some local authorities have tendered direct payment support services out to the cheapest bidder – not usually local organisations led by disabled people – and so the support we know is needed is no longer available.

Please look under the surface of research about us as disabled people employing personal assistants.

Clare Evans, Calne, Wiltshire

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