Social workers lack knowledge of personalisation, survey finds

An exclusive Community Care survey of attitudes towards personalisation has revealed a significant knowledge gap among social workers on key aspects of the reforms, which aim to give service users control and choice over their care.

Only 17% fully understood the concept of personal budgets, under which users can buy care using either a fund that they can manage themselves, or a direct payment or by leaving councils to operate.

Of more than 350 local authority staff surveyed, half said they needed more information on the concept of personal ­budgets, and 21% understood the term only a little.

Only 19% of all social workers felt well-informed about self-directed support – an umbrella term for allowing service users to determine their needs. Those employed by councils fared slightly better, with 27% feeling well-informed.

Social workers said they felt most informed about direct payments, with 50% of all practitioners and 70% of council social workers “well informed”.

Ruth Cartwright, professional officer for England at the British Association of Social Workers, said the findings were representative of practitioners’ experience of the reforms so far. She blamed the government for social workers’ knowledge gaps, accusing ministers of “not doing a good job of selling personalisation”.

“This has put social workers in a difficult position when they have to discuss financial matters with service users without clear guidance in place,” she said.

The survey, published today, of nearly 600 qualified social workers also found that more than half of adult social workers believe personalisation will lead to a decline in the number of qualified practitioners.

When asked about the impact of the three-year reforms on the workforce, 58% predicted there would be fewer qualified social workers by 2011, as did 64% of council staff.

Cartwright claimed personalisation was “accelerating” an existing decline in the employment of qualified social workers.

“In some areas, assessment of people’s needs has become a tick-box exercise so councils can say there is no need for qualified social workers,” she said. “The reforms require holistic assessments that qualified social workers are best placed to do.” The news follows proposals to introduce personalisation at Wirral Council, under which 29 qualified posts would be lost and 26 non-qualified posts created.

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