Call centres are handling an increasing number of initial social care assessments, while social workers are playing a reduced role, say professionals.
Initial assessments were generally conducted through call centres, said 26% of respondents to Community Care’s annual personalisation survey, up from 18% last year.
Meanwhile, the proportion saying such assessments were mainly carried out face-to-face fell from 64% to 52%, and there was a fall from 46% to 38% in the proportion who said social workers mainly handled initial assessments. Thirty per cent said initial assessments were now mainly handled by call handlers or customer service staff.
[Go to our special report for full coverage of our annual personalisation survey]
The trend appeared to be a cost-saving exercise, said Helga Pile, national officer for social care at Unison, which co-sponsored the survey with The College of Social Work.
“You can use cheaper staff to do the initial screening of people and what’s a bit concerning is the extent to which you can make a reliable initial assessment over the phone with some client groups as many people do not present their needs easily over the phone,” she said. “There are also questions about the level of training the call centre staff have and their access to expertise. Are there social workers available for these staff to talk to? In our experience not always – sometimes they are completely cut off from social work expertise.”
The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services said local authorities were becoming more efficient at dealing with inquiries and “reducing unnecessary further assessments which do not result in a service”. It added that Department of Health statistics show that in 2010-11 that 1.1 million of the 2.2 million contacts social services received from new clients were dealt with at the point of contact.
Community Care surveyed 272 social care professionals employed by English local authorities, three-quarters of whom were registered social workers.