Posted: 14 May 2020
Our CEO Oonagh Smyth looks at what the future holds for adult social care.
At Skills for Care we have been thinking about the future, while supporting the sector in the here and now. We have had incredibly useful feedback from the thousands of employers we work with which has helped shape our initial response, but is also making me reflect on the sector in the future.
Social care has never had such a focus with the media or the general public in my lifetime. As I said in my last blog, it is over long overdue that colleagues who work in social care are recognised for the valued work they do, becoming sung rather than unsung heroes.
The same applies to social care in general – we cannot go back - we need to build a new and better system out of our terrible experience fighting the virus.
At Skills for Care we have spoken about how people who access social care, people who work in social care, organisations who provide social care and organisations who are interested in social care must work together to develop a clear vision for what we want to see after the crisis. We need to have a vision that we can hold on to - as an anchor for our next steps and actions.
For me this vision must start with the person who accesses social care being at the centre of our thinking. It must start from what they need to live the lives that they choose, with their families and in their communities.
For people who access care and support to live the lives they choose, it is clear we need a skilled workforce, in the right numbers, with the right values. We need a workforce with the right values – but we also need a workforce that we value. We must build on the understanding that people are starting to have about social care and turn the Thursday applause into practical changes that recognise the vital contribution of our growing social care workforce. This is likely to include better pay, investment in skills development, clear career pathways, recognition and value and improved working conditions.
We all know that social care and health need to work better together so that the baton change is not felt when a person needs support from the two systems. The experience of social care and health needs to be better integrated, of that there is little doubt. However, I am hearing calls for the systems themselves to be integrated, for social care to be integrated into health. I believe that most people who work in social care and in health know that this would risk losing all that is great about social care - the focus on personalised support, prevention and early intervention, the social connection as well as the care, the understanding of the depth of people’s lives and the importance of connections.
That thinking also assumes that everyone who receives social care support has a health issue, which we know is not the case. For some people, the integration of social care with employment support is more relevant for example. But, for me, to create successful and meaningful integrated experiences of social care and health, we must ensure that social care can come to the table as an equal partner. There must be genuine co-operation and understanding of how both systems work in any future reform.
Finally, I hope that we continue to acknowledge in policy and practice how important social connections are and how important informal support is. Many of us have felt the gap in our lives when we have had to limit our face to face connections. It has made us remember how important social connections are to all of us. This is no different for people who receive social care – relationships are important to us all. At the same time, while we have lost some ways to connect, we have experienced new and different ways to connect in our communities.
This makes me reflect that we have real and untapped strengths in our communities. Social care does not and should not operate in a vacuum – people who access local social care services certainly do not. I am confident that we will continue to recognise the importance of social connections and that we will make more of formal and informal support.