A change of formation
My career in care has been diverse, varied and tremendously rewarding. It started out in Newcastle in the early 1970s. This was soon after the release of The Seebohm Report, which set out key reforms for the sector, including the amalgamation of a number of functions to form a single social services department.
Even almost 50 years later, my memories of the consolidation of all the services to form Social Services are still vivid in my mind.
As the services came together, it became apparent that so many parts of the system were all visiting the same family, all of whom had been previously visited by different departments. The formation of Social Services meant one social worker supporting one family. One particularly stark memory saw me involved in an eviction for the first time and we had to place the mother and children in a homeless hostel. It was like the harrowing, ground-breaking Ken Loach film Cathy Come Home in real life and it’s an experience that has stayed with me and helped motivate me over the years to improve our services for the better.
It’s fair to say I joined at a time of great – and much needed – change for the care sector and it’s something I’ve witnessed first-hand over the course of my career.
One such instance of major change has been around the language used in care. For example, ESN (the educationally subnormal) was a widely used term which has rightly been reformed to people with learning difficulties, while those with disabilities were once called ‘the handicapped’ but, again, no longer. How we refer to people in care is crucial to projecting a positive image of the sector and language is now properly prioritised.
The quality of accommodation is another significant improvement in care. You used to see confused older people housed in dormitories or multi-bedded rooms with shared facilities – whereas now they will be in single rooms with en-suites, as we now correctly recognise and understand the needs of people living with dementia.
Many of these changes are reflective of a large-scale shift towards a person-centred approach. More often today, the person is at the heart of what we provide and that is a marvellous improvement.
Of course, for me on a personal level, a major development during my career was the formation of the Surrey Care Association. When no such association existed 15 years ago, care providers in Surrey were a disparate bunch, who operated independently with little by way of collective thinking or targeted aims.
An evolving picture
The Surrey Care Association (SCA) came together out of necessity. With ever-changing regulations and an evolving care landscape, providers needed support in assessing and implementing these changes. The SCA was formed to develop a collaborative approach, helping those working in care in Surrey to steer towards shared goals that benefited everyone.
Initially, the association was predominantly funded by the local authority and TOPPS (now Skills for Care) and the Learning and Skills Council. As a result of that funding, we were able to set up workforce training for the sector. It was considered a best-value initiative and the SCA was instrumental in researching what training was needed, commissioning it and monitoring its delivery. When the funding from Surrey County Council was reduced, the SCA continued to run training programmes for managers and owners very successfully; for example, we took the lead in helping providers to understand GDPR and its impact on their operations, as well as the Mental Capacity Act. We were the ‘go to’ place for training delivery, with many providers regarding us as the first port of call whenever they needed training or simply a better understanding of something that was set to affect their provision of care.
In a brave move that I’m proud of, we switched five years ago to a membership-funded organisation. Since that change, providers have now been represented independently and relationships with the key stakeholders have changed to a more meaningful dialogue.
The changes in sector regulation have required a significant amount of learning, with the ratings schedule proving very challenging for providers. The SCA was able to train care providers in the key areas so that they could make plans in their business and train staff and we continually evolved our training to meet these requirements.
It wasn’t just in Surrey, though, where care associations were having an impact. Across the country, more and more associations were forming to service regional needs. The aim was to create a unified voice. The SCA set up the Care Association Alliance (CAA) in partnership with the West Midlands Care Association. This looked to bring together local associations from across England, with a view to supporting SME providers, giving them national representation and helping ensure their needs and concerns are heard.
I am still co-chair of the CAA alongside Melanie Weatherley and it’s gone from strength to strength. We conducted weekly meetings during the pandemic to project best practice and intelligence, while fostering a better understanding of how different local authorities operate – something that has been key in adding value to the alliance.
For my successor, the ongoing development of our sector is set to be a priority in the coming years as we emerge from the pandemic. The new CEO will need to focus heavily on this, supported by the Surrey Care Association’s board of directors, who are already looking ahead.
In recent months, the board has done significant thinking on how to reinvent social care to reflect the current landscape, producing a detailed White Paper as to how they see it working, which includes the development of integrated health and social care – something that’s set to be a challenging agenda. A real positive of the pandemic, though, has seen it bring SCA and NHS colleagues much closer together. For instance, we now do a weekly newsletter with contributions from our health sector colleagues. I hope our partnership work in this area will be strongly built upon, as there is much more to be done around the emerging Primary Care Networks and how the SCA and our members can support their services – we need to ensure our large self-funded population isn’t overlooked and ensure our significant number of services for people with a learning disability stays at the forefront of our thinking.
Another ongoing aim will be to properly convey the scale of our contribution during the coronavirus crisis, by continuing to reach out to non-members to offer our support and encourage those Surrey providers who have not yet done so to join our vibrant social care community.
A key area that will continue to be a focus for the association, and indeed the whole industry, is that of recruitment and retention. The care sector has long suffered from recruitment issues, but this has been exacerbated by the pandemic. And while a sometimes positive spotlight has been shone on our sector, which has helped encourage people to explore care as an option, we still need to see more people joining the workforce with the right values and compassion.
Like everyone nationally, we need to continue to raise the profile of social care, building on the positives of the pandemic to take the next step and secure adequate funding, which in turn should help attract the right staff. It’s not just attracting staff though; we will need to focus on our existing staff to try and soothe the stresses of the pandemic by rebuilding their strength and wellbeing. Managers in particular have had an incredibly challenging role, and the pandemic has tested their leadership and resilience to the core.
Overall, I’m extremely hopeful for the future of social care. Reflecting on the span of my career, the improvement in that time has been profound and far reaching and I anticipate this evolution and positive development to not just continue but to gather pace in the years ahead. I look forward to observing with great interest in my retirement.
Erica Lockhart is former CEO of the Surrey Care Association. Erica has now retired and has since been replaced in her role at the SCA (unknown at the time of publication). You can contact her successor via the SCA website www.surreycare.org.uk or by calling 01372 571174. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @SurreyCare