‘Cut social workers’ planning role to empower users’

Social workers' role in support planning should be radically reduced to enable service users to take control of deciding how to spend their personal budgets, an influential paper said this week.

Social workers’ role in support planning should be radically reduced so that service users can take control of deciding how to spend their personal budgets, an influential paper said this week.

The report for Think Local Act Personal, the sector coalition set up to support the delivery of personalisation, said the default position that care managers supported people to develop a support plan needed to be reversed.

“Requiring that people always have professional interventions in order to perform what for many can and should be a relatively simple task, is fundamentally disempowering as well as inefficient and costly,” it warned.

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The assumption should be that people will make their own plans with the aid of simple tools, said the report by personalisation consultants Helen Sanderson and Simon Stockton.

Where they did need assistance, this should be designed to transfer support planning skills to them and enhance their confidence, and should often be provided by external organisations.

It said there was good evidence that external support planning services, such as those provided by user-led organisations, were better at helping people take control than council care managers.

A key factor in making the model work was for councils to provide eligible service users with their personal budget without having a detailed support plan in place, leaving users with the time to develop this subsequently.

The paper has been endorsed by TLAP’s board, which includes the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, the Department of Health and the Social Care Institute for Excellence.

TLAP programme manager Martin Routledge emphasised that it did not want to see the number of social work jobs decline or for professionals to play a lesser role in the support system overall.

He admitted some social workers felt they were being “written out of the script” on personalisation and that TLAP and others needed to focus on “more positively describing the role of social workers in self-directed support”.

In terms of support planning, he said: “Social workers will need to focus their efforts on those people who really need it.” Some people would be able to do this for themselves, he added, while others would be able to gain help from a user-led organisation; “but there will be a significant number of people who will need some support from social workers”.

This included people with more complex needs and those who were isolated.

Routledge added that his personal view was that there was scope for an expansion in community social work with practitioners developing networks to help disabled and older people manage their support.

Sanderson and Stockton’s model is similar to the “new script for social work” developed by think-tank the Centre for Welfare Reform.

Although social workers play a reduced role in support planning under the “new script”, they are given increased freedoms, notably being able to sign off personal budgets up to a certain value.

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