As President Peter Hay prepares to join the government's Engagement Process, he reflects on where it should start from, and where it might possibly go...

The announcement of the engagement process, as part of the development of the White Paper, at least gets some momentum behind its production and allows the hope that we may see the reform wagon start to roll again. We will certainly be watching carefully to see who comes to help push!

ADASS used the brief quiet space over the summer to reflect on where we have got to.  We have had a flurry of activity with thoughtful reports from the Law Commission and Dilnot.  We had all the events at Castlebeck and Southern Cross, and there is still a need to translate this into wider learning.  For all the noise from the sector, and the range of the issues about provision, the reform programme must hold citizens at its centre.

Reform is about the need to create a single system that is simple and personalised.  The acid test must be that people can understand the care system even if they first come into contact with it at a point of crisis.

People who need social care need to be free from fear about its affordability - whether that is from their own or from state resources the way care is paid for must be transparent, understood and adequate.

Care must offer peace of mind to citizens and carers by living the values of dignity and demonstrating its attention to safety.  In all respects, the current care offer is a long way away from this emerging ask from ADASS - what we see as a 21st century offer that meets the needs and standards of the 21st century.

ADASS is therefore starting this engagement process from where we have got to so far - a world post the Government's vision, Law Commission and Dilnot.  This is not an engagement that puts up a new "wish list".  Whether we like it or not, this engagement starts from where the pieces are on the board now - so we moved past whether free care was worth consulting about when the government ruled that out.

If we fail to heed this we will put the process of reform at risk. Unlike previous attempts to reform care, this Government didn't come late to the table.  It took office with a clear promise of reform and a timetable for legislation.  So far it is on target with its timescales.  If the sector dissolves into the engagement process with confused messages about where we start from, then we will write off any chance of reform.

Engagement is becoming a way of testing the commitment to reform and assessing the barriers ahead.  The care sector has sent clear signals to date that it recognises the urgent need for reform.  We're being asked for trade off's - and the first one is that we enter the process on the basis that the Government has outlined, not by where some may wish to be.  That's what ADASS has to do - we are public servants implementing and advising on policy.  For some citizens and carers, that's a huge ask and ADASS will need to persuade them that it's worth taking this approach to hold the line of reform and resources.

ADASS recognises that there is cynicism about the level of political support for reform and the lack of noise in favour of investment.  The first two of the party conferences hardly set a blazing pace.  Yet if we as a sector send diverse and conflicting messages on care reform, we will let the coalition off the hook.  It will become the lack of consensus not the politics that sees this reform agenda join the largest discard pile in government.

ADASS is up for the discussion about priorities in a sector that appears to be ready to work hard on a consensual approach to reform.  We need to use that willingness to create a case for why reform will work - simply continually illustrating a system that is broken is not going to work.  For despite the system's failings, there is much about what we are starting to do that suggests that the system is worth the repair.

And therein lies that rub.  Eleanor Roosevelt's view that it's better to hold a candle to the future rather than rage against the dying of the light is a good motif with which to enter this engagement.  We need to show how we can create solutions which will command public and political confidence.  At the heart of social work is the ability to offer solutions - we need to see if others are committed to the implementation.  If we could start a process of reforming and resourcing care, we could build a fire from the flame.