Keep it real - making sure my policy perspectives are informed by practice
TLAP’s Policy Advisor Martin Walker shares how recent experience has forced him to reappraise his thinking about the contribution of social workers and good practice he has heard about first-hand.
I’ve spent a good deal of my time at Think Local Act Personal creating resources to support people to make progress on personalisation, improving direct payments (opens new window), Making it Real (opens new window) and so on. This has involved reading reports and journal articles, meeting with other ‘policy wonks’ talking policy and improvement, and of course taking a co-productive approach, making sure people who draw on care and support have a voice in those conversations.
I’ve spent an equally significant amount of time hearing from people with lived experience of care and support, particularly when I worked at ‘the coalface’ in the town where I live and was trying to implement change in a Local Authority to ensure the care and support it provided was person-centred.
At that time working with social workers left an impression on me and my views of them fell into two camps:
- I met inspiring practitioners who clearly got what we were trying to do and supported it, getting involved in the change journey and promoting a personalised approach
- I also met social workers who saw being able to exercise choice and control as a fad, an inconvenience that added to their daily workload, and an infringement of their professional domain where they clearly knew best what people needed.
So, it was really refreshing recently to have my impressions challenged, and to learn that it’s not as black and white as I thought. I was lucky to meet Julia Parfitt, Principal Social Worker in Birmingham City Council, along with about twenty other practitioners in an online ‘direct payments clinic’ and to experience the positive spirit amongst them.
This was a session to give practitioners permission and space to bring along their experiences about situations being presented by the people they are working with, to talk them through with peers, and to problem solve together. The intention being to support people’s individual ways to achieve agreed outcomes, wherever possible.
I was somewhat surprised to come across such a forum in a local authority that I hadn’t been particularly aware was doing such focused direct payment work. It was salutary to find people able to find the time and energy in our busy and crowded agendas to focus down on detailed improvement work.
It got more inspiring as we heard about some of the ways direct payments are currently being used. I heard how they have supported a family member, who happens to live in my home town, to travel down to Birmingham periodically and provide replacement care for an unpaid carer so they can have some time to themselves, simply by paying the train fare.
In the meeting I asked why they were doing what they were doing. Was it a leadership drive? People demanding a better experience? Overwhelmingly I heard it was about trying to do the right thing for people, and it was refreshing to hear this from social work practitioners.
This made me reflect about the way I approach my own work. I need to seek out varied perspectives to ensure my contributions to policy and improvement work remain balanced and grounded in people’s real experience, from practitioners as well as those who draw on care and support. That will help me to keep it real.