Warning – certificate 35+ (this post contains entertainment references only understood by those of 35 years and over)
I will always remember an ex-manager’s lament that social workers were not getting to see people who needed care or support early enough, and therefore missing opportunities for, in particular, safeguarding prevention. I remember thinking that I could probably purchase a range of illegal services/substances/items much more easily than getting through to a social worker, in a council. Their phone numbers and contact details have become a closely guarded secret, to which one can only win access, after winding one’s way through the Crystal Maze and scrabbling around for enough golden tickets in the Crystal Dome.
Think about the average journey a person makes before they ever get a sniff of someone who will provide them with an in-depth and holistic assessment. Most of the time a GP will give out the leaflet with information about their local contact centre for social services. Thereon in, they are thrown into a Labyrinth of services, people, teams – and all without even catching sight of David Bowie in obscenely ill-fitting spandex.
The Care Act recognises that people don’t know what they need to know, in terms of their journey through the confusing system that is social care. Good information and advice will be a welcome relief for those who are understandably perplexed about heading towards teams whose names have no meaning in the real world: ABC team, A&R teams, ART workers, CC teams, Zone teams, SPOCs, ICT, numerous HUBs and my favourite of all: ‘The proof of concept team’ – hurrah for that one being the most inexplicable.
The Care Act retains the low bar from the old legal framework for accessing an assessment of need: “Local authorities must undertake an assessment for any adult with an appearance of need for care and support, regardless of whether or not the local authority thinks the individual has eligible needs or of their financial situation” (para 6.13 of the Guidance). So, people in contact centres in Local Authorities need to understand this to ensure they are not inadvertently turning people away without offering an assessment – or something else that should come before even that part of the process, such as advocacy or prevention/reduction suggestions.
According to the Guidance, an assessment begins as soon as a Local Authority starts to gather information about a person – therefore once someone in a contact centre begins to discuss and record potential needs, the assessment clock has started ticking. It isn’t actually ticking towards anything, though, because there are no timescales for completion of assessment written into the Care Act. However, there are a range of other issues that need to be considered at first contact, including pausing the assessment, and knowing you are doing this in order for a round of prevention to be accessed.
The duty to provide advocacy for those who might have substantial difficulty being involved might be triggered for the purposes of assessment, which might begin at first contact, which means contact centre workers need a working knowledge of the test to ascertain the level of difficulty in being involved. This is not to be confused with the test for capacity – which in itself means workers need to know the difference. The Care Act recognises this complexity: Local authorities must ensure that their staff are sufficiently trained and equipped to make the appropriate judgements needed to steer individuals seeking support towards information and advice, preventative services or a more detailed care and support assessment, or all of these. They must also be able to identify a person who may lack mental capacity and to act accordingly (Para 6.25)
Carers now need to be viewed in the same vein as people who need services, and that is both a change of mind-set and cultural shift within many Local Authorities. First contact workers need to understand the issues regarding whether they are offering Carers’ Assessments or Carers’ preventative services, as Belinda discusses here.
First Contact is a complex area, and one which tended in recent years to be staffed by people less qualified than those at the end of a very…long…line. Before one can get the golden contact number of an actual social work team, let alone an actual named worker (wowzers!) the journey through this vortex is governed by the triage work within first contact centres – as with most triage, it’s not best done with a script, because it involves making complex judgements, which need to be addressed in a legally compliant and knowledgeable manner.
This area of first contact is both a skilled and sensitive role. Oh how I remember when local teams used to have direct contact with members of the public – straightaway, no less! We were in touch with families and GPs, we could see issues coming from a distance in order to react and actually do some prevention! Pull up a beanbag and make yourself comfy whilst I regale you with tales of how much better it all was…a few years ago.
The Guidance continues to speak to first contact workers: Staff who are involved in this first contact must have the appropriate training and should have the benefit of access to professional support from social workers, occupational therapists and other relevant experts as appropriate, to support the identification of any underlying conditions or to ensure that complex needs are identified early and that people are signposted appropriately. (Para 6.27)
Maybe this means that people WILL get access, quickly, to someone who at least has had some support from someone qualified and legally astute? Perhaps once again, workers in local teams will regain a sense of the community they work within, a sense of the community so many of us crave within our working and personal lives.
And maybe, it will be a little easier to win the golden ticket – the one with the phone number of a team whose name isn’t akin to a Krypton Factor challenge, on the back. And of course, this week’s star prize – a named worker!