I’ve written before about how pleased I am that social workers are being actively consulted during the creation or reform of legislation - and also the guidance and regulations supporting its implementation. As a result, our values of empathy, openness and person-centred care have been reflected in the aims and delivery of recent endeavours, such as the revised Mental Health Act 1983 Code of Practice, the review of police powers of restraint and perhaps most significantly, the Care Act 2014.
The Act represents the most wide-ranging changes to care and support in more than 60 years. Through its tenets it is hoped we'll see a much clearer focus on individual well-being and an emphasis on placing peoples’ needs and desired outcomes at the heart of the care and support system.
This more holistic approach is of course very familiar to social workers. Our work, by definition, is person-centred. Its success is dependent upon understanding an individual’s wishes and feelings, challenges and hopes for the future in the context of their family and community. And when it comes to decisions about how and when local authorities can assist with a person’s existing or future care costs, our insights can be invaluable.
That’s why a proposed appeals process forms part of this latest Care Act consultation. It is only right that a person should have the opportunity to question their local authority when they feel care funding decisions do not give a true reflection of their circumstances. Furthermore, they should be able to receive clear, unambiguous answers quickly and expect issues to be resolved as soon as possible. The Department of Health is therefore consulting on a new system built on the principles of early resolution, communication, fairness, equality, accessibility and proportionality. Again, these are values and concepts with which we, as social workers, should be very much at home.
As we know, people often find themselves engaging with the care and support system at a vulnerable point in their or their loved ones’ lives – and we are frequently present within that narrative. Local authorities already play a vital role in communicating how people can question decisions made about their care and support. The proposed appeals system would strengthen this role - a non-adversarial process designed to help resolve issues early and hopefully mitigate the need or desire for legal redress.
The proposals also introduce the role of an independent third party who would listen to both side’s views on a decision before making recommendations on how they feel the matter should be resolved. This independent voice would help promote fairness, accessibility and equality in decision making. The responses the Department of Health receives through this consultation will be central to improving this means of redress.
I do hope local authorities, social workers and all those involved in care and support can join together to embrace the appeals proposals. Obviously, it is hoped that all councils will strive to make the right decisions first time, but there will always be cases where judgements are challenged or disagreed with. Giving people the opportunity to do that can only be a good thing.
We all have loved ones, friends or family who at some point in their lives will need to call upon the services of the care and support system. Let’s make sure we have an effective means to review decisions to make sure we can all benefit from fair and equitable care and support.
The consultation is open until 30 March 2015 – please do get involved and be one of many voices for social work at the heart of care and support reform.