Social workers’ values influence assessment outcomes more than eligibility thresholds

07 Mar 2016

Report on adult social care savings recommends councils focus on improving social work consistency instead of cutting staff

Councils should focus on improving the consistency of social work assessments instead of cutting staff to make savings, according to a report from the Institute of Public Care.

The report found reductions in social work numbers could increase the cost of care packages. It said the values and risk thresholds of practitioners were most likely to determine service user outcomes and the associated costs. It also pointed to previous research showing a link between high investment in assessment and care management staff and lower numbers of admissions to residential care.

Instead of cutting frontline assessment and care management staff, councils should focus on achieving consistent social work practice to ensure service users don’t receive higher care packages than necessary to meet their needs, the report said.

‘Risk averse practice’

The report was written by John Bolton, visiting professor at the Institute for Public Care. It is based on Bolton’s direct work with councils over the last five years; findings from the Local Government Association’s adult social care efficiency programme; and a piece of work commissioned by the Department of Health with six councils during the 2015 spending review.

Bolton told Community Care there was a significant variation in social work practice, both between councils and within them.

“There are many creative social workers finding creative solutions but there is also a large cohort of social workers who tend to be quite risk averse in their practice,” he said.

“I don’t blame them because it is absolutely clear to me that the number of social workers have been cut, but these are the social workers who tend to create the higher cost care packages.

“Councils need to be aware of that and of the fact that the mechanisms they have, such as stating public eligibility criteria or having assessment panels, won’t work unless they are absolutely clear with staff about what they want from their practice.”

Bolton added that many councils were using asset-based social work or ‘promoting independence’ care models to build new relationships with service users. Both seek to draw on an individual’s strengths, skills and existing support networks to help maintain their independence, which can in turn reduce the need for formal care services.

However, Bolton said financial constraints meant some local authorities felt the only solution was to “assess people in crisis, meet their needs and that’s it”.

Read the full article about social workers' values influencing assessment outcomes on Community Care.

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