Personalisation and the social care knowledge gap

More social workers understand the workings of personalisation than in 2008 but a big minority are still in the dark, writes Daniel Lombard

More social workers understand the workings of personalisation than in 2008 but a big minority are still in the dark, writes Daniel Lombard

Social work was allotted a “central role in delivering personalised services” in the Department of Health 2009 adult social care workforce strategy. Yet our survey with trade union Unison shows significant knowledge gaps among the practitioners implementing the personalisation agenda.

Although 63% said they needed skills in brokerage to deliver personalisation, only 31% said they had them.

Gaps on adult safeguarding also emerge, with 37% of practitioners saying they lack knowledge on what to do if care arranged by a service user puts them at risk.

Other areas were more encouraging, with increases in understanding of key terms, such as individual and personal budgets, direct payments and self-directed support, since a similar survey in 2008. But 14% said they understood little or nothing about individual and personal budgets.

The British Association of Social Workers and Association of Directors of Adult Social Services conclude that overall knowledge and confidence about personalisation has improved since 2008, when the Putting People First programme began.

“There’s still work to do because we haven’t engaged 100% of staff but there’s encouraging progress,” says John Nawrockyi, secretary of the Adass workforce development network. “The fact that 57% are well informed about individual budgets compared with 22% two years ago shows a significant leap in understanding.”

Nawrockyi notes that “every council in England will have core training on personal support planning, advocacy and brokerage and adult safeguarding”.

But Ruth Cartwright, joint manager for BASW England, says this provision is patchy and some local authorities could be failing to support social workers in helping people access information, sources of funding and services. “I wonder if some of the doubt people are feeling is because council policies and procedures do not seem to embody the principles of personalisation.”

Not all social workers will need all of the skills, however. Nawrockyi says some agencies delegate brokerage tasks to third parties, such as voluntary sector providers. Meanwhile, Jill Manthorpe, director of the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s College London, says individual budgets might not be appropriate for social workers involved in sourcing care home placements.

But there are concerns at the lack of awareness of contingency plans if services break down during a crisis. Nawrockyi says: “Every personal support plan should have a risk assessment. Councils already do this but it might need to be reinforced.”

The solution in closing the skills gaps lies in fewer “didactic” training courses and more interactive skills development activities, says Manthorpe. These could include peer development groups and mentoring programmes focusing on personalisation, safeguarding and problem solving.

“It is easy to see what needs to be done but this survey and our own work suggest that many social workers have embraced elements of personalisation, seeing them as improving user outcomes,” Manthorpe says.

● Full analysis of Community Care and Unison’s survey results

Related articles

Report into roles and tasks of adult social workers published

Adults’ staff strategy fails to consider social work role

This article is published in the 20 May 2010 edition of Community Care under the headline “Getting in the know”

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