Reflections on our recent roundtable with ADASS - by Director of IMPOWER Jeremy Cooper.

‘I’m not sure whether to feel overwhelmed and fatalistic, or excited and optimistic’ was an honest reflection during our recent roundtable with the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS). We tackled some big topics for which there were never going to be easy answers.

ADASS’ Vice President Sarah McClinton chaired the roundtable.

 

Despite a diversity of perspectives and experiences, a clear consensus emerged:

 

  1. There is an important set of new opportunities and practices that the last two years have given us the chance to develop that we must hang on to;
  2. There is also a set of negative practices and backward steps we have been forced to take because of the crises and we must undo these;
  3. The set of changes now facing us has never been more wide-ranging and complex;
  4. The vision of how to improve adult social care has not changed, but we must reframe how we tell the story of our impact, and;
  5. There is no complete roadmap – local journeys and priorities will need to be defined and a whole system approach must be taken.

 

Over the last two years the sector has seen a removal of bureaucracy – within organisations and particularly between them. The understanding of risk changed dramatically, resulting in great examples of positive risk taking. Listening to individuals and communities has proved conclusively that the professional gift model is not fit for purpose.

Participants were honest that some of the practice that has developed over the last two years has taken us backwards. Specifically, the pressure to shift big numbers through hospital discharge has led to a backward step in personalised approaches and strengths-based working.

After this period of intense pressure and change, our workforce and sector might hope for a period of stability and consolidation. However, with the sheer breadth and complexity of the change challenges facing us, we concluded this isn’t going to happen. In fact, the breadth of change challenges puts adult social care , fundamentally changing social care in its own right, and the way it works with the wider system within local government, health and beyond.

However, there were three changes that generated the most discussion:

  1. CQC assurance. Greater transparency and scrutiny is warmly welcomed, along with realism that regulation often leads to a reductive and defensive view of ‘what good is’ and a temptation to focus on chasing numbers rather than outcomes. This assurance must not be a distraction from achieving better outcomes – a key challenge for us all to lean in to.
  2. Care reform changes. There is a major concern about the level of funding that will accompany the new requirements, and this has the potential to totally drown out positive planning for how best to drive implementation of the different changes.
  3. Workforce. So many of the change factors will have an impact on our internal workforce and the wider workforce. Whilst the importance of the social care workforce (and the need for change and increased recognition) has never been clearer, the mixed messages and direction from central government are in danger of undermining confidence within the workforce.

 

Through all of this, there is a genuine danger of paralysis and compartmentalisation. Waiting for firm clarity before really getting moving, and implementing change in siloes without considering the interdependencies and bigger picture.

Despite these changes, the blueprint for social care has not changed. Participants agreed that a strengths-based, asset-led and integrated approach that empowers people and communities to support each other, to prevent, reduce and delay their need for formal care and to live happy, healthy and resilient lives is the ambition.

It is essential that social care leaders articulate the overall narrative of change. There is a chance to reframe how we conceive of social care. There must be a locally-determined, clear and prioritised plan, including where to start and which battles to fight. Through all of this, the power of coproduction and the voice of lived experience will be truly critical.

IMPOWER is proud to be a partner of ADASS and is committed to building on this discussion. As main sponsor of ADASS Spring Seminar 2022, we will be posing questions across the three days via the conference app.

 

As the discussion was under Chatham House rules we have not attributed any of the reflections and quotes in this article.