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Dorset Council

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Encouraging a better work-life balance in a rural setting

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This article is sponsored by Dorset Council

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Dorset Council is transforming the way it delivers adult social care and is confident the changes will also improve both the quality of life for residents and the work-life balance for its social workers and occupational therapists (OT).

Currently, the council faces a number of challenges in delivering social care to its population. For one, its proportion of over 65s (an estimated 28.6%) is well above the England and Wales average. Secondly this population is spread across a large rural area; and this is further complicated by the lack of affordable key worker housing, which makes it challenging to attract new social care professionals to the area. In addition, the high proportion of self-funders among the older population means many people are accessing care without council involvement, in some cases opting for the care home route when their needs may be better met in other ways.

Amy-Jane, principal OT at Dorset Council says: “Sometimes, individuals may not require such high levels of care. It might be just a slight adjustment to their living environments, such as assistive technology introduced into their homes that can make a great difference.

“We want to make sure Dorset residents are fully informed on how assistive technologies can be used to minimise or complement the care they receive. This is helping self-funders to not deplete their resources unnecessarily.”

Building Better Lives in Dorset

Dorset’s Building Better Lives programme provides an answer to all of these challenges. The principle is to use the council’s own land to develop housing for older and disabled people in ‘care communities’, enabling scarce resources to be focused on supporting people in a single area. The developments will also include affordable housing for health and social care professionals, which is likely to be a bonus for those considering relocation. And because these homes will be located in the communities, it will help to reduce commuting times between work visits, meaning staff build more robust relationships with residents.

“There will always be rurality in Dorset,” says Tony Meadows, Dorset Council’s head of commissioning. “But if you have a higher concentration of residents that you are supporting in one place, that will have an impact on your workload.”

The communities are also designed to promote a culture where people are cared for in their homes as far as possible and have access to assistive technologies to facilitate that process.

“A good example of this is introducing Skype technology into people’s homes, promoting digital ways to socialise, ordering groceries online and even providing GPS trackers that can be placed in a vulnerable adults shoes to track their movements. This negates the need to be physically monitored all the time, can increase independence and reduce risks for people living in their own homes and communities,” says Amy-Jane.

Local care

The first care community will launch in Bridport, a bustling market town set between the countryside and the coast, by spring 2021. This will be followed by a second in Purbeck in 2022. Smaller-scale projects have already been launched too. Eventually, care communities are expected to spring up in 10 areas of the county over a 10-year period.

The care community concept is inspired by a similar project in the Netherlands but also came at a time when Dorset’s nine previous local authorities were being merged, in April 2019, into two unitary authorities. Unlike the previous county council, the new Dorset unitary – which covers all of the county except for Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole – is responsible for both social care and housing, enabling a joined-up approach.

Tony says: “We want to be having one conversation, saying your story once and having a wraparound of services rather than dealing with one side of the coin. Housing is so important in terms of basic needs and getting the right accommodation for someone ensures that they have a good quality of life and can maximise their independence.”

Strengths-based approach

Central to this project is the council’s focus on training its social workers and OTs to work in a strengths-based way. The aim is for social workers and OTs to maximise the skills of the adults they support and create preventative solutions for them.

“We want to make sure we are asking the right questions in the right way, looking at the person, their skillset, and at the strengths and skills around them,” says Amy-Jane. “We want to be helping them to solve their own problems in the first instance, rather than feeling that we are making decisions on their behalf. We do not want to be creating dependency on services when it might not be needed as they may be able to meet these needs themselves. That means meeting the unmet needs of people in communities, particularly where they may feel isolated.”

Tony concludes by saying: “The care village concept may be the way of unlocking how that care is maintained by giving people independence and connecting them a lot more to community services such as leisure centres, libraries and voluntary groups, for example.”

Be part of the transformation in support for children and families. Apply to join Dorset Council today. 

Read other articles from Dorset here:

Putting adults’ social workers back in the driving seat

Falling  caseloads, emotional support, variety: Why you should be a Dorset social worker