GP-style adult social work practice pilots hampered by budget cuts

Progress of the seven social work practice pilots has been slower than hoped and many of them have taken on a care management rather than core social work role, according to an interim evaluation report.

The setting up of seven adult social work practice (SWP) pilots in England has been a “complex and lengthy business” hindered by squeezed council budgets, according to a six-month evaluation report.

The Department of Health originally intended the SWP pilots to go live in July 2011, but “this proved to be unrealistic,” according to the report published by the Social Care Institute for Excellence. Most opened their doors almost a year later in June 2012.

“Setup has been a complex and lengthy business for all of the pilot sites,” found the report. “This mirrors the experiences of the councils that set up children’s SWP pilots. Those involved in the [adult SWP] pilots, however, had the added complication that a significant council focus was on budget reduction activity during the setup period.”

One council involved in the project, Shropshire, undertook major restructuring and made all staff redundant during the setup period for its SWP. The pilot eventually went ahead, but was adapted to provide short-term assessments and interventions in a specific locality, rather than randomly-allocated cases throughout the county.

The evaluation comes at the mid-point in implementation of the seven pilots, six of which have gone fully live. Those leading the pilots were “engaged and enthusiastic”, the report found.

However, it noted that many of the pilots had taken on a care management role rather than carrying out core social work services. A number are looking at how to develop their community social work function further.

The report also highlighted the SWP pilots’ “complete mutual interdependence” on council systems. “This has the impact of both supporting the SWP pilots in that they don’t have to do this independently and have ready-made client recording systems. However, it potentially also inhibits them, both from the point of view of aiming to reduce bureaucracy and in relation to the challenge to increase innovation.”

The report includes updates from each pilot site and descriptions of the 10 accompanying pioneer projects, which are due to run until March 2013.

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