Hope

The days between Christmas and the new year offer time for reflection, for looking back at the year drawing to a close. And space for looking forward too – to a new year, and indeed a new decade. 2020 – ‘the future’. It’s a time for resolutions. Aspirations. Anticipation. Hope.

We know that hope is a fundamental part of living. It’s a reason to stay alive. But hope is a term that’s often missing from our social care vocabulary. In this blog I want to consider hope (and lack of) at all levels of social care, and let you know why personally I’m full of hope for the new decade and for a better, brighter social care future.

We don’t have time for hope

More often than not, individuals and families turn to social care in a crisis, when they’ve exhausted all other options and lost hope in any alternative solutions. Their hopes lie at our doors, at the end of our phone lines, in the emails and referral forms we receive. But there’s not much space for hope in our transactional, process-driven, statutory social care world. Any optimism is often short-lived. Hope is confronted by our queues and waiting lists. Our needs assessments and risk assessments and eligibility determinations and financial assessments. Our signposts and referrals. Our rules.

We respond to people’s needs, not their potential or their aspirations. We refer to people in a language devoid of hope: vulnerable, suffering, at risk, house-bound, bed-bound. We write people off. ‘There’s nothing more we can do’.

We don’t have time for hope. We don’t have time to build the trusted relationships necessary for us to see and understand people’s aspirations and desires and dreams. We don’t have time to explore ways to keep those hopes alive, to support people to take steps towards achieving those dreams. Our industrialised approach to social care relies on quick fix, standard service solutions to meet presenting needs. Often that’s all individuals and families hope for. Usually that’s all we hope to provide.

A workforce losing hope

“Few would dispute that social work is the profession of hope… Regardless of the reason for entering the field, social workers come to the profession with an essential hopefulness. Without hope, without a belief that positive change is possible, the profession would cease to exist.”

Elizabeth Clarke [1]

Hope is a fundamental part of social work and social care. But in recent years social care workers have increasingly lost hope. A recent survey of more than 1,000 social workers found more than half (56%) were thinking of leaving [2], and the estimated turnover rate of directly employed staff working in the adult social care sector in 2018/19 was 30.8%, equivalent to approximately 440,000 leavers over the year [3].

Levels of disillusion in the sector are high, against a backdrop of lengthening queues, diminishing budgets and unrealistic/meaningless performance targets. When workers have innovative ideas, they get tangled in bureaucracy or dismissed within the hierarchy of their organisations. If forward-thinking leaders suggest new ways of working, all too often they’re met with a wave of change fatigue. Hope crushed in a collective ‘it won’t work here’ response.

A national picture devoid of hope

We’ve been hoping for change in social care for a long time. Hoping for successive governments to translate rhetoric into action. Hoping for a green paper. A white paper. More recognition. More respect. More money. A short term fix. A long term plan.

But nationally the dominant narrative of social care in the media and from think tanks and campaigning organisations is extremely negative.

“Social care, which fails to look after vulnerable people adequately, leaving them to be neglected and abused, is broken and in or on the brink of a crisis. The cost of social care is spiralling because there are growing numbers of older and disabled people and funding hasn’t kept pace with demand. Councils, the NHS and providers are under severe strain. The system can’t cope. Other valuable services are threatened.”

Neil Crowther [4]

Where is the hope in these headlines? Where is the incentive to invest, to build, to get involved, to change?

People seeking support experience a system that fails to offer hope. Social care workers caught up in the social care machine are losing hope. And the national picture of social care is devoid of hope. It’s a gloomy picture isn’t it? So why I am so full of hope about our social care future?

Hope for the social care future

“We need people to feel HOPE about the future of social care so it gives us some energy to work together.”

Social Care Future [5]

OK so I’m an optimist. A glass half full type of person who embraces opportunities and relishes change. And I genuinely feel full of hope for social care in this new year, this new decade.

It’s easy to lose sight of hope if you’ve experienced first-hand the frustrating, dehumanising, hopeless elements of our social care world. And indeed if you read the papers, listen to the news, watch the documentaries, see the campaigns.

But delve a little deeper and there’s a different story being told within social care and beyond. A groundswell of kindness and compassion. An appreciation that asking ‘what matters to you?’ matters more than ‘what’s the matter with you?’. A shift from managing risk to seeing and supporting possibilities. A recognition that large-scale, hierarchical, bureaucratic institutions have had their day, and that the future is small, and local, and custom-built by people in their communities, for their communities. A move from a transactional approach focused on individuals as passive consumers, to a relational way of working and acting and living, where we are all equal citizens who are involved and connected, and who belong.

#SocialCareFuture, the Social Care Innovation Network, TLAP, SCIE, Rightful Lives, the Social Work, Cats and Rocket Science team and many others are collating stories that show a very different side of social care. And they’re collecting together people determined to make a difference, to build better lives, to work together to tell a very different story.

It seems to me that the glimmers of hope for our social care future rest not in the hands of power but much closer to home, with each and every one of us. So instead of focusing on what’s wrong, let’s build on what’s strong. Instead of waiting for change, let’s be the change. Instead of hoping for others to act, let’s all act together to sustain hope.

Happy new year.


References

[1] 10 Essentials Social Workers Must Know About Hope, Elizabeth Clark, The New Social Worker, 2017

[2] Crisis in social work revealed by new UNISON survey, UNISON, 2019

[3] The state of the adult social care sector and workforce in England, Skills for Care, 2019

[4] Talking about a brighter social care future, Neil Crowther, #SocialCareFuture, 2019

[5] Social Care Future: easy read report, 2019

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