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
'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,'
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
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
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
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
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
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