A new way of thinking about social care working with communities to tackle isolation

Against a backdrop of rising demand for social care from an ageing population and budget cuts, one local authority is taking a different approach to social work focusing on empowering individuals in an asset-based approach.

Recently there has been a focus on people's vulnerabilities, ignoring their strengths and networks, and encouraging a needs-based approach to social care. But in Thurrock, they are working to change this, handing power back to individuals and communities 'encouraging them to take more responsibility by using their often untapped strengths, skills and passion' says Les Billingham head of adult services at Thurrock Council, to deliver what is a more person-focused approach.

In an article in Community Care, Les goes on to explain that this isn't about doing 'social care on the cheap' but about enabling people to have more control over their care, and divert those that need low level support away from more formal social work interventions towards more community-based and personalised solutions.

'For example, last year we appointed three local area coordinators to work closely with vulnerable individuals and their communities to share strengths and find local solutions. The coordinators learn about the clubs, organisations and informal support available in communities and link people into these,' explains Les.

Since taking up post last summer, the coordinators have helped dozens of individuals in need of this more 'low-level' support and have had a profound effect on the loneliness and isolation often experienced by these people enabling them to meet others and develop social connections.

The impact of these local area co-ordinators has yet to be fully assessed, however, an evaluation of the first 16 weeks of the programme is recommending appointing a further five local area co-ordinators. While it is early days to identify long-term savings, it is evident that this programme is reducing the numbers being referred into traditional social care services while improving their integration into communities.

And with just over half of those referred into the programme being over 65 with 40% having learning or physical disabilities, mental health problems or sensory impairment, it is evident the programme is working to reduce isolation of some of the most vulnerable.

And this new movement towards incorporating community, family and friends in the provision of care to those who need support services appears to be picking up pace. In Control has developed our All Together Better programmes as part of Partners in Policymaking which just like Thurrock council's support communities, family and friends to be an active participant in the care of those requiring social care support and services.

In addition to the local area co-ordinators, Thurrock has introduced a community 'hub' which offers a community space, hosting the local library as well as daily advice surgeries from the council's housing department, NHS health checks and drop-ins for a wide range of local voluntary sector services such as mental health charities.

Les goes on to explain that it is not just having a hub, but the volunteers themselves that are making the difference. '… it is the volunteers and community meetings that make the hub special. Community volunteers provide sign-posting, guidance and advice. They support residents in their own community to better manage their challenges.'

Since this first hub started, several other communities are now developing their own hubs in partnership with the council. The aim is that these hubs will be managed by community interest companies with local council assets transferred to these companies where appropriate.

Les is adamant that this is not social work on the cheap. 'The coordinators are not a replacement for qualified social workers doing what they do best - working with clients with the most complex needs or greatest vulnerability.

'This is cultural change that enhances the value of social work, the key role of the community and the centrality of the individual.

New thinking and new ways of working can help us and the people we serve adapt to meet the coming challenges together.'

Visit the Community Care website to read the full article.

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Last Updated : 28 January 2014. Page Author: marijke.hirst.