View from the top

John Kennedy is Director of Care at Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Reflections on the last decade

‘Disappointing’. We’ve known about our ageing population and the challenges it will bring for a long time. But still we’ve not settled on our response. There’s always a sense of permanent crisis.

We cannot continue to put social care in the ‘too difficult to deal with’ box. We need a functional sector. We need it for the economy, the workforce and, most importantly, for ourselves. Social care is part of the infrastructure, we can’t ignore such a fundamental thing. It needs to be permanently a higher priority.

I have been with JRF for 14 years, the challenges set out when it was founded 100 years ago are still as relevant today. We are an independent organisation working to inspire social change through research, policy and practice. Tackling poverty in society is especially important. We have evolved and modernised over the past decade. We’re constantly trying to mould ourselves to reflect the current world, whilst also preparing for the future. We endeavour to try to understand the ‘underlying causes’ and address our challenges with sustainable long-term solutions.

I’m currently taking a sabbatical to continue with my care home inquiry. I’m visiting care homes with ‘Outstanding’ ratings to find their secret and see how it can be translated. It’s a fairly simple formula – a good manager, adequate resources, vocationally-orientated organisation. Though remarkably difficult to replicate within the current system.

Getting social care right for ourselves and our families isn’t just about more resources, although more resources are required. It’s also about our attitudes to care and how we value those who care for us. We need to accept the fundamental change that needs to take place to allow our social care sector to be ‘good’, commonly and consistently.

Projections for the next decade

We need to be realistic about the challenges and get solutions in place. The current situation isn’t sustainable. It will impact on society, and put greater pressure on the NHS. Cheap social care doesn’t work. We need to fundamentally review social care. If we don’t, I fear the consequences. I hope we will finally embrace social care and agree a long-term workable future. I hope so as there are not many decades left before it will be my turn.

Insight

It seems clear to me that everyone wants good social care. But we don’t seem to be able to create the conditions for it to flourish. Perhaps we all need to think about ourselves, our own wishes for the care we might one day need. Personalise our thinking. Putting ourselves in the shoes of the cared-for might help us accept the fundamental changes needed. We need valued staff with sufficient time for interactions, relaxed enough to chat and banter. Social care is about interactions, it’s not a factory. We need to nurture the relationships, they are the key. Kind, caring people thrive in kind, caring systems.

Influences

I’m not a dogmatist, or at least I don’t think I am. I am open to changing my point of view if persuaded. Many people have influenced me. I’ve been privileged to work with some incredible people and, of course, going home in the evening to family always brings you down a peg or two. As a teenager, Jack Kerouac influenced me to hitchhike the world and today, Dr Bill Thomas of the Eden Alternative, always makes me think.

Lessons

Don’t think you know it all. You need to have confident humility. But I also think it’s a weakness not to say what you actually think, even if you may feel stupid sometimes. There are a lot of naked emperors around.

Advice

Be yourself. Trying to be someone else or what you think other people think you should be doesn’t work, it’s also very stressful.

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