Social Workers are inadequate with Personal Budgets
Personal budgets are delivering improved outcomes, but service users are finding too many changes in their social worker and conflicting information from practitioners.
The report following the three year stufy of personal budgets found that they were working well for the service users and their families.
Personal budgets had increased opportunities to get out of the house and socialise and boosted independence, including because being able to employ a personal assistant made them less reliant on family.
Service users and family members said their care was better because of the greater choice and control they had over services, with some changing providers with which they were not happy, according to the report by the Office for Public Management and edcp (formerly Essex Coalition of Disabled People).
The report found that having good family and social networks, and service users being confident enough to push for more from the budget, helped with being able to manage personal budgets for service users and provide advice and advocacy.
However, the report said that the main problem was with social workers. Some found that the social worker did not have much time available to spend with the service users and families, which is essential when introducing them to a new procedure.
Service users want a single point of contact who knew their circumstances and whom they could get in touch with easily, but found that their social worker changed or were difficult to contact. This meant they were unable to have their needs reviewed when they felt this was necessary or they were forced to explain their circumstances to several people.
Families and service users found they received conflicting information. Some had been told they could spend their budget in a particular way by a social worker, but found out at the review stage that they were not spending it correctly.
The time that the review period takes is also a hinderance. Practitioners also said it could take six to eight weeks for service users to start receiving their personal budget because of the “bureaucracy” involved, which could lead to the person’s condition deteriorating.
Recommendations from the report included that:
There needs to be greater clarity among practitioners and service users about what people can and cannot spend personal budgets on;
Communication protocols should be reviewed to reduce the amount of time service users spend trying to get in touch with frontline staff for information and advice on using personal budgets;
Practitioners and service users should be given much greater clarity about reviews including: when they should be instigated and by whom; what changes in circumstances families need to report to the council prior to the review; the difference between the review and the ongoing process of “light-touch financial monitoring” of personal budgets by staff.
Practitioners should not conduct reviews by phone and must ensure they have had a chance to fully engage with a service users’ support plan before conducting a review;
The set-up process for personal budgets should be shortened to prevent service users from deteriorating while they wait and to free up practitioners’ time.
The council should seek to boost its capacity in support planning, providing information and advice on using budgets and reviewing support, by exploring how far community or peer support organisations can carry out these functions alongside council practitioners.
To help increase personal budget uptake, the council should report internally on take-up rates across teams, and “buddy” practitioners with more experience of setting up personal budgets with those with less experience.
The council should provide service users who lack the skills required in managing budgets – such as negotiation and financial literacy – with training and development in them.
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