Please crave my indulgence for a longer than usual post as it’s my last blog as deputy, but I do intend to take to Twitter in future weeks as I contemplate life as a Leeds resident rather than resident and council employee!!
Over the past few weeks, as I’ve contemplated the end of my time here, naturally enough, I have been thinking back to how much times have changed since I first turned up for work at Roundhay Road area office in October 1982. Social care in Leeds is virtually unrecognisable to the way it used to be, the policy context, the culture and, perhaps more than anything, the technology.
When I started out, Leeds had just commenced electronic wage payments. Previously, brown paper packets containing cash were handed out by admin officers in the various social services ‘establishments’. There were huge numbers of young people in the care system; many living in huge ‘residential schools’ sleeping in 30 bed dormitories. People with learning disabilities were accommodated on wards in a specialist hospital – Meanwood Park; people experiencing acute mental ill health were often placed at Highroyds in Menston, a Victorian asylum (mercifully now apartments). Assistive technology largely consisted of pick-up sticks, commodes and walking frames.
The council was by far and away the largest provider of social services for children and adults[i], running more than 40 homes for older people around the city. Many of these accommodated groups of older people in dormitory settings, 10 or 12 to a room. From the age of 50 onwards, people would put their names down to go into these homes and admission was regulated by the waiting list, not even or necessarily, regarding need. Children’s safeguarding was called ‘child protection’; adult safeguarding had largely not been recognised as being required. In adult care there was no such thing as ‘Care Management’, community care didn’t arrive (as a concept) until 1991, people’s care costs were met by the DHSS (Department of Health and Social Security)[ii].
People smoked – in offices, homes, all council premises and many health facilities. Trips to the pub at lunchtime were not uncommon, there were those legendary employees who, on occasion, could make such lunchtimes last for the rest of the day (and much of the night as well). There were no mobile phones, there were no computers, the ‘client index’ (such as it was) could be accessed from the one computer terminal in each office, each in turn linking to the mighty ‘mainframe’ computer in the Civic Hall.
It came as a real and genuine shock to me the first time I had to present a social enquiry report (as they were then called) to Juvenile Court (as it was then called), that a leather jacket and Levis were not acceptable as a form of dress.
I could go on (and on and on – trust me on this one).
So what would you make of all of that? Well, to be serious for a moment, it’s been really interesting for me to read about the way contemporary standards have been applied to historic child abuse enquiries, it’s absolutely clear that even the best practice standards that undoubtedly existed in the eighties and nineties, would be unlikely to pass close examination by the standards of today, whilst poor practice then would likely be regarded as recklessly negligent and dangerous now (and indeed has been shown to be so in other authority areas).
More than anything, it seems to me, social care in both adult and children’s services continues to strive towards a return to its roots as a means of advocating for disadvantaged groups and working alongside individuals in their communities to co-produce support when it is needed. The notion of child centeredness and person centeredness have always existed in social casework theory, but examples of true individual and community empowerment and control have never seemed so tangible as they do now.
In that sense, things, from my perspective are undoubtedly better now as I take my leave, than they were when I made my first foray.
There is a but. Broadly, policy changes over the past 30 or so years have been introduced for reasons that have been well understood and in most instances (if not immediately at the time, then certainly at a point subsequent to their introduction) welcomed by the majority of the social care community. There is now, it seems to me, an alternative driver for policy change, more overtly political in nature, more partial in impact. We are also in an era of rapid policy making where legislative changes hurtle through parliament often (by their very nature) creating distinct unintended consequences.
Austerity, or the application of austerity in the North, has clearly impacted on Local Government and, to some extent thus far, on health partners. Austerity effects people differentially and, in my view, is likely to widen rather than narrow inequalities and that continues to be the enduring struggle that social care and social care services were fundamentally established to mitigate and address. If the application of austerity is one of the biggest challenges facing our society right now, it seems to me that the biggest challenge facing social care is how to maintain its distinct value base and identity in an environment where further integration with clinician led primary and secondary health care looks inevitable in adult care and externalisation at least possible in child care.
As a society and as a profession, we’ve come a long way in thirty years, as indeed have I, having worked in just about every grade of fieldwork post and most of the management ones too, I can honestly say that I enjoyed just about all of that time. I’ve worked with fantastic, inspirational, dedicated and professional people. I take great satisfaction that our collective efforts made, and will continue to make, a positive difference to the lives of the people we set out to help and support.
So, like I said at the start, as a Leeds resident I’ll continue to take a big interest in how things develop in the future. Unconstrained, I’ll be offering a partial and, hopefully, left field slant on all kinds of stuff through Twitter from Sept 1st @denzeeld if anyone wants to follow me!
So, in the words of the two Ronnies …it’s goodbye from me…
Deputy Director- Adult Social Care
[i] (and indeed for the first 23 years of my time with the Council functioned as one Social Services Department)
[ii] With which Social Services was constantly confused, leading to some memorable encounters with people believing that social workers were benefit officers….