“We’re getting back to what social work is really about”

Trevor Stephenson, Social Worker, Local Links Project

Trevor Stephenson, Social Worker, Local Links Project

Can you tell us a little about Local links and what it is?
Local Links in Leeds is a project which aims to provide customers with more personalised services within their local communities by delivering services in a different way. Building community capacity and ‘social capital’ is a really important part of this because we know that statutory services (like homecare) are only a small part of what’s available in local communities to support people – and we need to make sure our customers can access informal and community support as well, to meet their needs in the best way possible.

Initially we’re doing this in two parts of Leeds by working with our well-established neighbourhood networks – Armley Helping Hands and Garforth Neighbourhood Elders Team – to trial a new way of support planning and brokering care. If the model is a success, as we’re sure it will be, we will then extend it to other areas. These networks will employ people to do support planning and brokerage with customers, and produce care packages that include voluntary and community support – tailored to customer needs. They will also have someone whose role will be to increase volunteer resources, so more support can be offered within that community.

What does ‘support planning and brokerage’ involve?
If a person has care needs, a referral will be made to Adult Social Care (ASC) in the usual way. A social worker will then assess their needs but once the assessment is completed, the person can work with the neighbourhood network support planner, rather than their social worker to develop a support plan. The advantage of this approach is that the support planner will know what support is available in that community, including activities and support offered by the neighbourhood network and  other voluntary, community or faith-based organisations in the local area. We’re hoping that by doing things in this way, we will be able to integrate these other kinds of support alongside statutory services, such as home care support, to meet assessed eligible needs and, make sure people get the support that is right for them .

We want to see people more in a community context – traditionally what we’ve done is focus on people’s assessed needs and providing services to meet those needs. But we haven’t been very good at seeing people as part of their community and recognising the links they have or need to have. We want to find ways of creating new links for people in their community or restoring the links that they may have lost.

It’s all part of our ‘Better Lives’ agenda and the key aim is to think about people as individuals – what kind of support do they need to have what they consider to be a ‘better life’. That’s where ‘personalisation’ comes in because everything will be determined by what that person needs – so they can have a better life. And we know that feeling more connected to the community they live in is an important part of that for most people.

How far does the person receiving care and support, have a say in their support plan?
Local Links will enable people to have maximum choice and control over the services they receive. They will work with the support planner in the network to decide what statutory services they need – for example, they could employ a personal assistant or have services provided for them if that’s what they’d prefer. In addition, they can decide to ‘add in’ community and voluntary support – which may meet other needs that ASC wouldn’t typically fund. An example of this might be a customer with an interest in photography. Through Local Links they will still get the statutory services they need, but they may also be able to recruit a volunteer from the community to support them to do photography.  The difference will be that the support planner in the neighbourhood network will work with them to develop their support plan, and and arrange the services for them. If they do not want to receive a personal budget in the form of a direct payment, their personal budget can also be held and managed by the neighbourhood network on their behalf.

It goes even further than that, as for example, ASC usually deal with large-scale providers who are in a position to provide hundreds of hours of care per year. Local Links will be able to form relationships with smaller and more local providers who are likely to employ local people. These smaller companies may not be in a position to tender for any of our contracts because they aren’t big enough, even though they probably provide an excellent service on a smaller scale. We’re hoping Local Links will be able to utilise these smaller, locally based providers so, even though it may be an agency worker coming in, it will be more likely be a local person.

Is that what we mean when we talk about ‘social capital’?
Social capital is about community input. It’s about using the network of relationships that exist in a community and that involve everyone within that community. Organised volunteers are just one active and visible element of it, but it can include libraries, faith organisations and whatever other things are going on in that community. It’s that network of relationships and the potential support it can offer that you would describe as social capital and we’ll be trying to link people into that, to help them feel part of that community so they are not isolated.

How far are we in terms of rolling out Local Links and getting started?
We’re at the stage now where job adverts are going out out for the support planners and we’re hoping they will be in post very soon. Once they are in position, they can start developing support plans with customers. My role will be to support them in this process and also to monitor how the overall project is progressing.

A lot of work has already happened, have we used the views of service users through this process, and if so, what have we learnt from that?
Local Links is very much about building on the work of our existing neighbourhood networks. For the past 17 years or so, Leeds, uniquely in the country, has helped these organisations to develop and supported them in spite of financial pressures. These networks now have an assurance of funding for at least the next five years, plus possibly another three. They are therefore in a secure position to build on what they’re already doing, which we know is really appreciated and supported by the people in their local areas.

The networks and the committees that run them are predominantly formed by local older people who are at the heart of their community and are very much aware of what’s going on. I have also talked to a some existing service users in each area to explore the potential of voluntary support and the feedback has been really positive.

What do you think the main challenges ahead?
To make people aware that this option is available and for social workers who complete the initial assessment to present this option favourably, and promote uptake. A lot of preparatory work has been done to get the project to this stage, so now we need as many customers as possible to explore with us what this new approach can achieve.

I suppose this is what we mean by ‘co-production’?
Yes it is. The neighbourhood network will work with the customer to put their support plan together – that is real co-production. Then, after working with people to come up with a good support plan, the network support planner will pass it back to the social worker to take it through the approval process, with all the scrutiny that goes with that. Once it has been approved, it will go back to the network to implement. So it’s very much a partnership arrangement. It will be interesting for us all to see what comes out of this, what the product is, because we’re hoping to see significantly different support plans, which provide different elements of support to that what we usually get from the standard process.

Do you think it’s about choice then?
Yes, and I think greater choice will result from taking this type of approach to support planning. The current system can be less than ideal and I think everyone realises that. Frontline social workers are under a lot of pressure to do the assessments, plan the support and get it in place as soon as possible, so typically the whole thing is done in one visit. But if you want people to be able to really think about how they would like to arrange their support and to discuss that with their families, carers, neighbours or whoever else, they need more time to do that. We’re hoping that by handing over this part of the process to the neighbourhood network support planner, there will be more flexibility with time and  visits and more in-depth discussions about the options, which I think as a social worker is how it should be done. You could say we’re getting back to what social work is really about. Hopefully, it will also reduce some of the pressure on our front line social workers.

Are we expecting this to deliver any financial savings?
It is possible that by including voluntary and community support, some people won’t need to rely as much on statutory services. We also know that reducing social isolation and loneliness can mean people stay independent for longer. Any savings realised will be shared with the networks, so for them and their local communities, this offers an opportunity to access some additional funding to help with community initiatives and projects, increasing the capacity of communities over time. They will also gain a better understanding of the needs in their areas, and will be supported to adapt and develop volunteer services that reflect these.

What would you say are the key underlining principals of Local Links, if you had to sum it up in a few words?
It’s about people having a better life through having their support organised in a way that fits their individual preferences as much as possible, that helps them have the kind of life they want and that leaves them in a position where they feel really connected to the community they live in – so that’s what we’re going to do!

7 Responses to “We’re getting back to what social work is really about”

  1. Rory Laing says:

    Hi Trevor,

    As a Student Social Worker I am in favour of creating a more community based solution to many of the problems that appear to be born out of the individualist nature of our society. I am however confused why support planners will be unable to do the initial assessment as well as implementation, therefore making the place of the social worker redundant.

    For the most part assessments lead to low level support which does create a strong case for Local Support Planners but if that is the case why not have them do the initial assessment and only have them refer “up” to Social Workers when it is beyond their remit?

    Personally I would had preferred the new position being proposed to be part of the social workers role and create an trained administrator job which could lessen the bureaucratic load of Social Workers. This could be a opportunity to re-address the negative image of social workers and make them part of a community while relieving the strains produced by paper work allowing them, a trained professional, to once again become ‘front line’.

    If you do not mind me asking what training is required for a Support Planner? Will the social worker be responsible for continuous re-assessment or will the support planners responsibility continue for a specific length of time?

    A great article with a lot to think about and I hope the program is successful.

    All the best,

    Rory Laing
    MA Student in Social Work (University of York)

    • Thanks very much for your thoughtful comments and positive feedback on this initiative. I recognise the value in the comments you make in regards to the initial assessment also being based within communities and, it is certainly something we would look to develop and I hope that taking a more community based approach will help to address issues such as social isolation.

      However, the reasons that the project focuses on support planning and brokerage are that firstly, current legislation places the duty to carry out assessments on local authorities, which would make it difficult to transfer to anyone else. Equally importantly, we believe that focusing on these areas will bring the most benefits for customers. In most cases, the assessment itself is not problematic – the challenge is having the time to discuss with customers (and those who support them) how to organise their support so that it is truly personalised and tailored to their individual needs. This means customers having as much choice and control as possible, so they can achieve good outcomes and better lives – rather than just relying on traditional services which might meet their basic eligible needs, but little else.

      Social workers have an essential role to play in assessing and supporting customers. At the same time, though, voluntary and community organisations bring a different perspective, as well as different skills and knowledge – and we think it’s important to work in partnership with them. For example, organisations such as Neighbourhood Networks may have greater knowledge when it comes to the community and voluntary resources available within a local area which (alongside statutory services) can be invaluable in addressing social isolation and increasing independence. We hope the Local Links model, which will see social workers and community organisations working together, will result in customers getting the ‘best of both’.

      As for training, we see support planners needing broadly the same range of skills and values that social workers do to do their job well. However, bearing in mind that a key element of self-directed support is that customers should have the option of developing their own support plan, with assistance from whoever they choose, we need to be wary of over-professionalising this. And, we’re hoping to work out a joint approach to reviewing – again, the authority has the legal responsibility for carrying out reviews, but we’re expecting customers to want their support planner to be involved in the review, particularly if any changes are needed to their support.

      It is also worth noting that Leeds funds significant ‘direct access’ services in the community and the assessment can be done as a self assessment or in co-production with a community organisation.

      We’ll be evaluating the model throughout the trial, so there will be plenty of opportunity to reflect on how these arrangements have worked and make any changes before rolling it out more widely.

      Mick Ward, Head of Commissioning

  2. I’m currently in an Assessment process, there is a lot of ‘talk’ about getting the right amount of support by ‘listening’ to the service user, but it doesn’t happen in reality! They make lots of promises at ‘review’ but those are crushed by the burocracy.

    • Thank you for your comment and for the feedback offered. This has been forwarded to the relevant section of Adult Social Care who will respond to you shortly. If you have any questions in the meantime, please email asc.comms@leeds.gov.uk

      • Dear eclectictaste18

        Thank you for your comment. We make every effort to take feedback such as this into account as we develop new services and improve our existing ones. The Local Links project is focused on trying to make sure people can access services which are tailored to their individual needs. We hope this will mean people get the best support possible, and that the parts of the process which can appear bureaucratic are kept to a minimum – while still ensuring we meet required standards for using public money.

  3. Pingback: What's the latest on community social work? | Adult Care Blog

  4. Pingback: Part 2: Nurturing the local (in Leeds and beyond) | Relational Welfare

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