The passing of the Care Act in 2015 has been a significant achievement. Replacing most of the previous social care laws in England, it aims to put people in control of their support. Achieved with effective involvement of deafblind people, it strengthens the rights of deafblind people in relation to social care assessments and care planning.
After the first year of implementation, we wanted to know how well the Care Act has been working for deafblind people and their families. We spoke with Sense’s Legal Team, a Sense Assessment and Advice Officers, and a Community Manager. We also made contact with a small group of deafblind people.
Whilst the passing of the law has undoubtedly been a significant step forward, we found some troubling trends which highlight barriers in its implementation:
- Reduced funding is placing extreme pressures on local authorities and their ability to deliver high quality care and support. With the new national living wage being introduced, funding pressures on the social care sector are likely to increase. Sense’s Legal Team has found that this has been impacting specialist sensory service teams at local authorities with some having to close. As these teams provide information and advice, carry out social care assessments and offer services for people with sensory loss (hearing or visual or deafblind), there is a concern that deafblind people’s needs are being overlooked.
- Awareness of the Care Act for people with social care needs and professionals has also been a barrier. Through Sense’s legal casework and practice, it is apparent that social workers and local authorities are not always aware of the legal duties under the Care Act.
- Specialist Assessments are not always being received by deafblind people. Under the Care Act, local authorities must undertake assessments for anyone who appears to have any level of need for care and support, regardless of their financial resources. Local authorities must ensure that when an assessment is required or requested for a deafblind person, it is carried out by a person or team that has specific training, expertise and experience to assess the needs of a deafblind person.
The experience of Sense’s practice and legal work shows that sometimes people are allocated to the wrong teams, professionals may not be a qualified specialist in deafblindness or they may not be qualified to the level required for more complicated cases. When assessments are carried out they may not be holistic enough (such as observing people in different environments to understand changing needs) and sometimes it is apparent that local authorities are not able to feed the results through their resource allocation system.
In many areas it is only if deafblind people and families are aware of their right to a specialist assessment and ask for one that they get one. Some deafblind people have to resort to legal intervention to enforce their legal right to a specialist assessment:
“The legal support service plays a critical role in helping to progress cases when we are at the point where we can’t get any further. This is particularly the case in relation to securing specialist assessments and adequate care and support plans. Our clients would be forever stuck in the same position if we did not have the legal team’s input”, Assessment and Advice Officer, Sense.
- Care planning, panel and reviews do not always include a specialist. Sense’s Legal Team have come across concerning cases where local authorities are carrying out reviews of deafblind people’s care packages and proposing cuts to their service or a cheaper service without involving a specialist in deafblindness. There is a concern that this is resulting in care packages that are inadequate or inappropriate to meet assessed needs.
- Independent Advocacy is not always being provided when it is required. Under the Care Act there is a duty to arrange independent advocacy if a person would otherwise experience substantial difficulty in participating in or understanding the care and support system. This includes their assessment and or preparation of their care and support plan.
Whilst in some locations people have had a positive experience of accessing independent advocates, there is a real and significant concern in other locations which affects some of the most vulnerable people. The experience of Sense practice and Legal work shows that people are not always being made aware of their right to independent advocacy and social workers themselves are not always aware of the legal duties in relation to this. There are also resource issues and the lack of specialist advocacy services.
- Prevention Duties have been more positive. Sense practice and legal have seen a pattern of local authority commissioners placing a greater emphasis on prevention services, in particular equipment and adaptations provision. However, in regards to rehabilitation, we came across a worrying case in which a deafblind person had not had their needs met with the urgency that was required.
Sense will be campaigning for continued improvements to social care for deafblind people and so we want to hear more about the impact of the Care Act. If you would like to share your story, please contact Sense’s Public Policy Team on firstname.lastname@example.org