Concern is growing over use of non-social workers to reassess service users amid new evidence of the number of councils tightening eligibility criteria.
Social workers and service users warned that staff without social work qualifications may lack the advocacy skills to argue for clients and may miss key sources of need, including abuse.
Over recent years, responsibility for assessments has increasingly been passed from social workers to community care officers and other non-qualified staff.
Ruth Cartwright, joint manager for England at BASW – The College of Social Work, said: “Many non-social work qualified people are very good and very caring but they have not had the benefit of two or three years’ professional training.”
She warned that assessors needed to be aware of the impact of complex needs and family dynamics, and of the possibility of adult abuse.
“It is also possible that non-social work qualified staff will be less confident and less assertive in arguing the case for service users when there is an agenda of reducing numbers eligible for services and making cuts.”
One social worker said her council had a new advice, information and assessment team that takes all new referrals and only assesses them if they look likely to be eligible.
“Most who took these posts had worked on reception, so they did know a bit about the area and local resources, but they see the job as information work,” she said.
“I worry that many difficult issues such as domestic violence or abuse will be missed, and that there is no sense of advocacy being a core function. They certainly don’t have a view of themselves championing the rights of the service users, or of ever having to challenge authority.”
Sue Bott, chief executive of the National Council for Independent Living, said disabled people had little faith in some of those carrying out reassessments.
During a regional network meeting in the East Midlands disabled people were telling her how “the people conducting reviews don’t seem to have much of a clue about what they are supposed to be doing”.
“People said that the process was completely unimaginative with other options for meeting support needs that might be cheaper not being explored,” she added.
“There’s no scope for getting [reassessments] wrong, otherwise the outcomes could be disastrous,” said Stephen Lowe, policy adviser at Age UK
However, the process was defended by Ian Anderson, community services director at the Isle of Wight, which is due to reasses 1,100 service users over the next three months as it raises its threshold from substantial to critical.
Anderson insisted non-social workers were fully trained to carry out assessments and their work is overseen by a social worker.
“We’ve given them extra training on how to look for the risks people face in their lives,” he said.
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