I have recently had the great fortune to attend “Great Leap” lectures given by Simon Duffy, Sam Bennett and Paul Richards. All were different but all brought me back to the same thinking, where was the creativity, collaboration and imagination in adult social work?
If you want to know why the Care Act will be so important to people you could do worse than read the first sentence in the first paragraph of the statutory guidance:
The core purpose of adult care and support is to help people to achieve the outcomes that matter to them in their life
In fact if you look at the very first line, first paragraph of Part 1 of the Act itself you will read;
The general duty of a local authority, in exercising a function under this Part in the case of an individual, is to promote that individual’s well being
These two sentences capture very quickly the whole purpose of this new Act. The expectation of outcomes that are person focused and not service focused; and the statutory duty of the Local Authority or more importantly us as social workers to promote people’s well being.
Clearly the Act is much wider than this and yes there are new rules and jargon to understand and the need to be efficient within the budgets that we have. If, however, you understand and accept these two sentences then you are well on your way to understanding the principles of the Act, principles that are probably at the heart of who you are as a social worker.
The concepts of well being are unique to each and every individual and will require new approaches, ideas and creativity. However, will these two sentences make any difference to you, I or social workers the nation over? The positive answer is probably no, as clearly we will all have all been acting as person centred, aspirational, enabling practitioners all along. The realistic and honest answer is, a lot! Over the last decade social care nationally has not strived to deliver such person centered approaches, being stifled by an industrialised system of outputs. Sherry Arnstein gave us an early model of personalisation with her Ladder of participation paper. However that was way back in 1969 and 45 years on this has still not been achieved nationally and remains but a distant theory to many and an unobtainable dream to most.
If this is the case then the Care Act is an opportunity to make that shift, a shift that probably has to start with our own thinking. You may not be fully signed up to the Care Act or agree with every section of the guidance, It does however give you the chance to reflect and respond in practice. Those two sentences can only be achieved if we join with people and think about the art of the possible and not the art of the usual. Such thinking will require creativity and resilience from us all. The chinese artist Ai Weiwei summed it up nicely “creativity is the power to reject the past, to change the status quo, and to seek new potential. Simply put, aside from using one’s imagination – perhaps more importantly – creativity is the power to act”. This insight describes the journey we will probably all (and should) be taking over the next year.
As professionals we are placed in a ridiculously powerful position over communities and the lives of people, families and relationships. It is however, unacceptable for any social worker to forget that this power historically was given at the behest of the community we serve and not in place of it. Something both the wider community and ourselves may have forgotten.
In fact as social workers of Local Authorities and NHS Trusts we will probably have to go out of our way to let go of this power. Actively promoting, and giving back to allow for creative thinking to take place amongst ourselves and our communities, maybe it’s time for us all to walk on the grass.
Creativity is something that all social care staff should have become adept at over many years and wonderful examples can be found nationally of inspirational social work that makes the difference to someones right to be a part of not just community but life and all of the wonder, stress, love and sadness that it brings.
Creativity in our practice will not only support the goals of the Care Act it will bring about better outcomes for the people we work with. Creativity allows us to understand the strengths of people. Working alongside them to develop support plans and ideas that deliver opportunity rather than buying options that may disable further. Steve Broach recently commented that “Social work matters in the small places most people never see. Matters so much more than, for example, Law”. Making that difference in the small places is what we do and if we don’t then we need to look at ourselves, ask why not and then bloody well start.
If when you ask yourself what a direct payment is for, you answer “so that someone can choose a provider to meet their needs” then you haven’t quite got there yet. If instead you think direct payments are an investment in people, communities and economic growth does it feel different?
We are all now in the position that our creativity and practice can make a new difference in the small places of people’s lives, right from the very first sentence. The opportunities to show what is important about Social Work are endless even in a time when social care is under immense pressure, so lets not bugger it up.
Many thanks to Simon Duffy as I have pinched his pictures (and haven’t actually asked) check out The Centre for Welfare Reform