Social workers want personal assistants to be regulated


Nine in 10 adult care social workers want compulsory regulation of people employed directly by service users, exclusive Community Care research reveals.

Our survey of nearly 600 frontline staff found 93% of council social workers and 95% of those in other organisations backed mandatory Criminal Records Bureau checks on personal assistants and others hired by direct payment or personal budget recipients. Checks are currently voluntary.

It will also be voluntary for those hired directly by service users to register under the vetting and barring scheme, which is due to launch next year and requires a CRB check.

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of social workers in councils and other bodies supported registration of personal assistants and carers with the General Social Care Council. It is due to consult on the issue soon.

More vulnerable

Most survey respondents – 96% of local authority social workers and 82% of social workers with other employers – were concerned that personalisation might make some service users more vulnerable.

Our survey also found a high level of resistance to the personalisation reforms being rolled out in England between 2008 and 2011. Nearly half – 48% – of local authority social workers said the agenda was not the right direction for adult social care.

Department of Health guidance published in January said the government wants all service users, “regardless of their level of need”, to have choice and control over how their support is delivered. Over the long term this would mean giving all users a personal budget.

However, 71% of council social workers believed extending personalisation to all service users “regardless of their level of need” was inappropriate.

The survey was sent to readers in adults’ services ranging from newly-qualified staff to those with more than 20 years’ experience. It attracted anonymous responses from 598 staff, including 357 local authority social workers. No local authorities or organisations were identified.

The findings are likely to prompt concerns among directors about social workers’ readiness to implement personalisation, while fuelling the debate on registering PAs ahead of the GSCC consultation.

Jeff Jerome (pictured), the national director for transformation of social care, said the findings reflected a “lack of understanding” about personalisation, particularly in areas where the reforms had yet to bed down.

The personalisation tsar, who was appointed to implement the government’s reforms in June, predicted that responses would be very different from areas at the cutting edge. But Jerome said some areas were “still in the early stages” and admitted that agencies responsible for implementation needed to be more proactive.

“Directors and others including myself need to spend more time with staff talking things through, particularly those who are more conservative about the changes,” he said. He pointed out that the DH and Social Care Institute for Excellence would soon produce guidance to help organisations.

He also warned that registration of individuals hired by people receiving personal budgets could be “unworkable” because it would be difficult to decide whom to include. “Service users employ a range of people including gardeners and cleaners. I don’t think we would be able to regulate all of them,” he said.

Jerome argued there was no evidence to suggest that people employed directly by service users were likely to pose greater risks than registered care staff. He added that service users could already request CRB checks for individuals.

Incidents of abuse

However, a Skills for Care study in March found that only half of direct payment recipients carried out CRB checks on personal assistants they did not know.

But Jerome added: “Many incidents of abuse involve care staff who are registered with the GSCC and have CRB checks. This shows how safeguarding is a wider issue than just regulation – it is the responsibility of communities and the whole of society.”

He said he would support a “kitemarking” scheme to help service users judge the quality of individuals’ services.

Ruth Cartwright, professional officer for England at the British Association of Social Workers, said the body was likely to back registration for PAs.

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