Personalisation good practice: Self-directed support at Barnsley Council

Self-assessment will be a key element of personalisation. Anabel Unity Sale looks at how Barnsley is making the process a success

Self-assessment is the cornerstone of personalisation in social care. Giving service users the opportunity to assess their own care and support needs and decide how their individual budgets are spent are central planks of the agenda.

This is a major cultural shift for most social workers because many professionals are used to assessing clients’ needs, rather than the other way around. One local authority rising to this challenge is Barnsley Council, where an individual budget pilot ran from January 2006 to December 2007.

Wendy Lowder, project lead for self-assessment support, says Barnsley wanted to be involved because it has strong values about independence, choice and control.

“Doing a pilot under the umbrella of the Department of Health gave us the legitimacy to challenge some of the funding streams. It also gave us the opportunity to challenge and stretch ourselves,” she says.

In Barnsley, self-assessment follows a single assessment process. It kicks in after an individual contacts the local authority about their perceived needs. Once the person’s eligibility has been determined under the Fair Access to Care Services guidance, they are given a 13-page self-assessment form with 10 questions to answer.

The forms are designed for service users to fill in relatively easily, but they can request help from a care co-ordinator or care manager, if necessary.

Completed forms are returned to the assessment care team for analysis and a decision is made on an individual’s indicative allocation. A letter detailing this is sent to the service user along with leaflets on charging and information on where to go for assistance in planning support and to decide what outcomes they want to achieve, how to keep healthy and what training they may need if they employ a personal assistant.

Lowder doesn’t believe that such a major change to the system has rendered social workers and care managers obsolete. Rather, she thinks the change will take social workers back to community development work and social care values.

“Under the old system, the carer would prescribe the support. With the new support plan, social workers need to work out how they can support the outcomes the client wants to achieve in their plan,” she says.

Despite the move from a prescriptive to a personalised system, Lowder admits some practitioners have differing confidence levels about the change and what it will mean for their practice.

To overcome these concerns, last summer Barnsley created a basic awareness training scheme for health and social care professionals. The course, which is now mandatory, covers how staff can help a client secure an individual budget and what tools can help them.

The benefit of individual budgets for service users is multiple, says Lowder. It will give older people more dignity about their personal care arrangements, as they will not have to describe their needs to different staff.

Clients will also have more control and flexibility over their care. “I hope more people will gain greater confidence and this will improve their mental health,” she says.

Barnsley council’s tips

  • Look at what has happened in your council before, learn from what worked and what didn’t.
  • Be inclusive of service users, family carers and professionals when encouraging self-assessment.
  • Be prepared for it to take time to set up – it is not a quick fix solution.
  • Do not wait until it is perfect before launching it. “Your learning comes through doing it,” says Lowder.

Case Study: Geoffrey Roberts wheelchair user

Beating boredom

Geoffrey Roberts belongs to a bowling league, creative writing class and swimming group. It is a wonder he has time to consider learning French, but he is thinking about taking it up later this year.

The 36-year old quadriplegic wheelchair user lives in Barnsley with his mother Joan, his main carer. Geoffrey has a busy social life because he has an individual budget after taking part in the local authority’s pilot project.

Joan explains that Geoffrey, who has speech difficulties, was keen to become involved in the pilot when other disabled people and his social worker told him about it.

“His quality of care was good but wasn’t fulfilling him mentally. He was bored and frustrated and wanted to do things he was deprived of,” she says.

With the help of his mother and social worker, Geoffrey completed a self-assessment. It then took three months to draw up a flexible support plan – which Geoffrey wrote with the help of a broker provided by the council. He qualifies for 16 hours’ support and divides it between care and social and educational activities.

He enjoys having more control over his care and who provides it and uses his individual budget to pay for two carers during the day, who also go out with him in the evening.

Joan says he was not fazed by having to assess his own needs and employ his care workers directly because he previously received direct payments.

“Geoffrey is very strong-willed and knows exactly what he wants to do,” she says. Self-assessment is not for every service user, she adds, but, with the right support, it can work out as well as it has done for Geoffrey.

Contact Wendy Lowder at Barnsley Council on 01226 770770

For more on Barnsley’s experience of personal budgets

This article is published in the 7 August issue of Community Care under the heading Good Practice: Knowing me, knowing you

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