Call for action on the adult care workforce

Ensuring care staff gain parity of esteem with the NHS and are valued by the public top the wish list for Association of Directors of Adult Social Services’ workforce lead Carolyn Nice. Ann McGauran reports.

Frontline social care is ‘the best job in the world', says Carolyn Nice, and she should know, having worked her way up from the role of care assistant to become a council director.

Carolyn, who is director of adults, health and wellbeing at Stockton-on-Tees BC, stepped into the role of workforce lead for the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) in January. Nice, who speaks at a plenary session at the ADASS Spring Seminar this week on the forthcoming National Workforce Strategy for adult social care, started off as a domestic in a care home when she was 17.

She became a care assistant in the care home where her mother was deputy manager, then worked for the NHS as a healthcare assistant. A pivotal exchange with a social worker, who ‘asked me why he would want my opinion, because I was "just a HCA"', prompted her decision to train as a social worker.

Qualifying in 2002, she worked in adult teams in Derbyshire, then went to Lincolnshire. There she became an assistant director, moving to Doncaster as assistant director, before arriving at Stockton. This has ensured she understands the value of entry-level care. ‘What my background has given me is a real passion and commitment for making sure our frontline care staff are valued and empowered to progress, have careers and do what they want to do.'

She adds: ‘Despite all the incredible challenges in social care, I still think it's the best job in the world. I don't regret doing it for one minute. I started as a domestic and now I'm a director of adults, and I have no idea how I got here.'

Her priority and that of ADASS can be boiled down to: ‘How do we get parity of esteem with our NHS colleagues at that entry level? How do we get our carers and our social workers to be valued in the way that nurses are?'

She is calling for a national media campaign to raise the profile of carers and the range of career opportunities available. She says it is time for an approach similar to the focus on careers in the military. ‘How do we get that value seen by the public? You know the Ministry of Defence ad for recruitment: "Be the best – come and go skiing, come and be a scuba diver…a chef", I think there's something for us round that.'

She adds: ‘There are so many different roles you can do in social care. We could do that along the lines of "come and be a carer, an occupational therapist, a support worker, a social worker". There's a million and one jobs you can do.'

Delivering such a campaign would be a quick win for the sector, she believes. ‘We don't sell ourselves well and we need support from the media to sell the positives. Every day, millions of people up and down the country are supported to stay at home, stay safe and have a good life with the input of social care. But we don't see that in the media.'

She sees clear signs of a shift in political interest, with the setting up of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Care Workforce, alongside Skills for Care producing the National Workforce Strategy with partners across the sector, ‘which will be amazing'.

That strategy, expected to be out this summer, will make a ‘massive difference', she believes. She thinks all the political parties are interested in social care, ‘and it's just sad that we've had to wait until it's in a challenging position to get it the priority it needs'.

It is time to get traction behind the strategy, she adds. She thinks that more than any time in her career workforce ‘has got a priority which I've not seen it have in social care before. So the time is now for me. The call for action is now.'

And her parting message? ‘We've got to start growing our own and going back to basics – there are a lot of people out there who don't know what social care is about.' Nice is just the right person to put them straight.

Carolyn Nice is a speaker at an ADASS Spring Seminar plenary session on a National Workforce Strategy for adult social care – turning a vision into a reality, on 25 April. Other confirmed speakers are David Pearson and Karolina Gerlich, and the plenary will be chaired by Martin Samuels. The Spring Seminar takes place 24-26 April in Wyboston, Bedfordshire.


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