This article originally appeared in The MJ. Using a strengths-based approach helps people to live more independent lives and enables councils to achieve better outcomes for less.
Peter Shelton is the Social Work Practice Standards and Complex Case Lead for Adult Social Care in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire.
My job title is certainly long…but what does it mean? I work to drive up standards within social work and improve outcomes for our service users and their carers. Along with colleagues from IMPOWER, I have run a number of workshops in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough aimed at raising the profile of carers and introducing new ways of working to support them. The purpose of the workshops was to support the knowledge and ability of council staff to have meaningful and purposeful conversations with carers, and direct them towards appropriate support to help them manage their health and wellbeing so they can maintain their caring role.
Carer’s Week is an important opportunity to celebrate the hard work and contribution that carers make. Carers are key to enabling the people they care for to remain in their own homes and communities, which is where most people want to be. Carers are the bedrock of support that we need to build our support services onto, but can often become socially isolated, and face financial challenges as well as increased risks to their own health.
There are approximately 6.5 million people who are caring for others in the United Kingdom; this number is expected to rise by 2037 to over 9 million. On a purely financial basis they are saving the economy over £132 billion a year – equivalent to the entire NHS budget.
Being a carer can be a very rewarding experience – but it can also be a very stressful one as well. In Cambridgeshire and Peterborough we are improving the way we support carers. Not everybody who is a carer identifies as such. People generally see themselves as a husband, wife, friend, son or daughter, partner amongst others and we need to be careful not to give people labels that they do not want, and that they maintain their own identity. Carers can be reluctant to ask for or accept help and can be less likely to reveal their caring status for a range of reasons including fear, dignity, or because they are worried about consequences. We need to help carers identify themselves, legitimise their needs and encourage them to accept support. Spotting the warning signs of carer breakdown early, and guiding carers to advice, information and support which might prevent crisis is crucial.
However they identify themselves, everyone must be given the same support and access to resources. Through consultation with partnership boards we are improving the offer we make to carers. We have simplified the process of Carer’s Assessments, moving away from long complex forms that are sent out for people to complete by themselves towards offering meaningful conversations that allow the person to actually say how the role feels for them personally, and what would help them to carry on in the role.
We have amended our Supported Self-Assessment; someone can now initially complete the assessment on their own if they so wish, and then have a telephone call (or a visit if more appropriate) to help them complete it and to identify any areas that they require more support in. This could mean signposting to other services such as voluntary groups or agencies. We must also remember that the assessment process should not just be seen as a gateway to care and support, but should be a critical intervention in its own right.
What we hope to achieve from this work is to raise the profile of carers and to provide meaningful support to enable people to go on helping the people they care for, in turn helping people to remain where they want to be. To achieve this requires ensuring that carers have access to information, tools and support to enable them to manage their health and wellbeing so they can maintain their caring role.