Since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been much debate, and many intelligent articles written, about the need to properly fund social care. There has been a similar amount of discussion on ensuring parity for social care and the need to reform social care, among many other things.
As the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) said, social care is not ‘a problem that needs fixing’ – but there is an opportunity to reset and reimagine using COVID-19 as the catalyst.
The presenting narrative about adult social care cannot be argued with or denied; it’s not even new, it has simply been ignored.
If adult social care is finally to achieve the recognition and transformation that it deserves, and that staff at all levels have been campaigning for over many years, we must seriously consider the need for staff to come to terms with what they have seen, what they have heard, and how they feel about their recent experiences.
Staff have died. People have been separated from their families for long periods of time. They have seen people they care for die and have lost colleagues. For this group, life has changed. As compassionate employers, commissioners, and decent human beings, we need to support them to help us all reconstruct adult social care.
We have to create the space, alongside the work to create a new future, for all staff working in adult social care, to talk about, reflect, and be supported in realising and coming to terms with how they feel so they can be heard, be understood, be responded to and helped to move forward.
This might involve more intensive individual support for some staff, an opportunity to talk in groups for others, and to share experiences or coaching. For others, this will not be something that they wish to access or that they feel comfortable with. It’s also important that adult social care leaders support the independent sector and commissioned services to offer the same level of support to their staff and build on the relationships forged during lockdown.
Carers outside local government have felt isolated during this period, sometimes even as a result of the attention being paid to ‘key workers’.
Communication will be critical during this phase and participative design, discussion, and co-production of the future with staff, partners, and people who use or may use services will be critical in finding our way to a new, and hopefully better, stable state.
This must include being really clear about the journey and the milestones along the way so everyone is clear what the goal is. Values, behaviours, performance expectations, leadership, team and individual development aligned to the new future alongside continuing access to support must be available for all staff.
Adult social care has had to focus on the practical and physical aspects of the business in order to get through the pandemic. There has been little time to focus on vision, strategy, and creating a purposeful and inspiring future.
Now is the time for us to begin to do that and, picking up on ADASS’ nine statements, to help shape adult social care reform, seize the opportunity to be transformative, while caring for our staff who have been through so much and building resilience in the workforce to deliver the type of service that people want and deserve.
Kim Curry is a former executive director and director of adult social services, experienced interim and retained visiting professor at Falmouth University
Benjamin Taylor is chief executive of the Public Sector Transformation Academy