This week marks the second anniversary of the Social Care (Self-directed Support) (Scotland) Act 2013, which came into force in 2014.
This legislation places a duty on local authorities to offer people who are eligible for social care a range of choices over how they receive their support.
Self-directed Support allows people, their carers and their families to make choices about what their support looks like and how it is delivered. As a result of this, and other changes, we have started to see a shift in how social care is provided and how social care organisations operate.
One of the biggest challenges for many support organisations in making the change to self-directed support is staff shortages. Many are forced to rely on agency staff, leading to a lack of continuity of care and support for people whose relationship with their support worker is often critical to their quality of life and ability to achieve the things that are important to them. This includes people who have learning disabilities, mental health problems, autism, physical and sensory disabilities.
To address this challenge, organisations need to make connections with people of all ages who have the right values to support people with additional needs and in turn encourage them to consider working in this rewarding field. As a sector, we have a long way to go to promote the many positive aspects of working in social care and the satisfying career it can provide.
Unfortunately, the social care profession has been perceived to be undervalued for many years. It is often commented that people who work on supermarket check-outs may receive better terms and conditions. Zero hour contracts are prevalent in some organisations. There is a perception that social care offers entry-level employment for those who cannot find it anywhere else. It is also true that the work can sometimes present complex and challenging circumstances for employees.
The Scottish Government’s commitment to a living wage for care workers will help to improve salaries for support workers, however more needs to be done to communicate the very real rewards the work offers, and to encourage more people with the right values and attitudes consider applying for work in the sector.
Employers often say that they know who will make a good support worker very soon after meeting them. This is regardless of any training or previous experience they have. In social care, a person’s inherent values and attitude matter most. It is generally accepted that these values include the ability to listen to and respect other people, a commitment to help others to achieve the things that are important to them, coupled with a willingness to reflect on what they do and learn from mistakes.
Fresh approaches to recruitment are beginning to emerge. This can be seen through the increasing involvement of supported people themselves in the recruitment process, including people employing their own staff through self-directed support.
Good employers will seek to match the skills and interests of their staff with those of the people they support, like gardening, DIY, cooking and art. Many employers now wish to attract older people with life experience who are looking for a change to a more meaningful work, are returning to the job market or are retired and looking to work only a few hours a week. Good social care organisations will welcome inquiries from people of all ages and backgrounds who have a commitment to making a difference to people’s lives.
So, as we raise further awareness this week of Self-directed Support and the opportunities for improved choice and control it offers supported people, I would like to encourage anybody who feel they have the right values and think they would benefit from the rewards, whatever their age or experience, to consider a new career in social care.
• James Fletcher is Director of ARC Scotland arcuk.org.uk/scotland