‘The Care Act enshrines social work values – but we need support to fulfil its promise’

Social workers' skills are critical to implementing the Care Act's vision of promoting wellbeing but they need time, support and resources to make this happen, says Gerry Nosowska

Promoting wellbeing, not avoiding risk, is at the heart of the Care Act

By Gerry Nosowska, chair, adults’ faculty, The College of Social Work

The Department of Health publicity for the Care Act states that ‘care and support is changing for the better’. This is what is hoped for from the biggest change in adult social care law for more than 60 years. We hope that this new law will fulfil the wishes and needs of adults and carers, who stated during consultation that they wanted support to achieve the things that they care about and to be fully involved in all that happened to them.

For social workers, I see the Care Act not as a new idea but as a new opportunity. It is an opportunity to work in ways that reflect social work values and ethics, using our unique knowledge and skills, and building on our experience of helping people to change their lives.

Permission to empower

The Care Act gives clear permission to build empowering relationships with adults and carers. The principles set out at the start of the Care Act require us to: begin with the person’s views, wishes, feelings and beliefs; not make assumptions; ensure participation; think about prevention and protection; balance competing needs; and minimise restrictions. This is an invitation and requirement to avoid being over-protective, managing or bureaucratic. We can pursue social work approaches that truly involve people and that exchange expertise with a new vigour.

The Care Act changes the language of social care law. Conversations with adults and carers now need to be about wellbeing, about what makes people happy. Although we are still talking about needs, these should be considered in terms of how they affect people’s ability to achieve outcomes that matter to them. We need to talk more clearly about prevention, information and advice and joint working. We need to talk more about independent advocacy. We need to undertake safeguarding enquiries, not investigations. An example is eligibility – the new criteria mean that the reason for someone being eligible for care and support is no longer to avoid risk but instead to promote wellbeing. Again, I think these changes in conversation reflect good practice and ways of working that social workers aim for. Our conversations should become more hopeful.

Tackling barriers to involvement

Since the Care Act requires that we work in person-centred ways, it demands that we redouble efforts to address the barriers that some people face in being fully involved. Not everyone will need a social worker, however The College of Social Work paper Roles and Functions of Social Workers highlights where our skills and knowledge will be most needed: when people are in complex situations; when they experience abuse or neglect; when they are oppressed or excluded; when they are isolated or dependent; and when they are experiencing loss. Social workers can ensure people’s voice, aspirations and preferences are heard in difficult circumstances so that the Care Act is meaningful for everyone.

We need to look at our individual practice and join with our colleagues to understand the Care Act so we can use it to build on good practice, and improve people’s experience and outcomes. However, we also need public understanding of the Care Act, enough time to work in genuine partnership with people, and enough resources so that good quality care and support is available for people who need it.

Real social work

The College of Social Work has published a five-point plan for the next government to enable Real Social Work – the kind that changes lives. This calls for investment in social work and in professional development, and central government policy that helps good practice to flourish. This is what we need for adult social care – investment, development and support.

The Care Act enshrines a standard of care and support that I believe social workers can wholeheartedly support. We can lead, model and deliver the kind of practice that makes the Care Act meaningful. We also need the time, resource and understanding to fulfil its promise. This is ultimately down to the kind of society people want to live in, and the kind of support we want for ourselves and our families. If we want the Care Act to work, as a society we need to invest in social care. Good social care is affordable if we care enough about it. I expect the debate about how much we care to grow and grow. I think social workers should be at the heart of this debate.

The College of Social Work has today released capability statements and a CPD curriculum guide for social workers on the Care Act. Find out more and download the publications from TCSW’s website.

Gerry Nosowska is chair of TCSW’s adults’ faculty steering group and founder of social work consultancy Effective Practice

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