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Community care minister Stephen Ladyman's announcement that the government will produce a strategy for integrated a...
Community care minister Stephen Ladyman's announcement that the government will produce a strategy for integrated adult services this summer is long overdue.

Over the last year, adult social care has taken on the air of a Cinderella service.

Moving children's social services to the Department for Education & Skills may have made sense in terms of integrating children's policy, but it placed a huge question mark against the position of adult social care within the Department of Health.

Health secretary John Reid's decision to deal with the abolition of the Social Services Inspectorate - a strong voice for the sector within the DoH - through the creation of the relatively minor role of director of social care (LGC, 18 October 2003) exacerbated this credibility problem.

The government's children's services reform programme, entailing a split between adult and social care within councils, posed a similar question about where adult services fit in locally.

Councils feared the marginalisation of adult care within the DoH would be reflected locally by the takeover of adult social services by the NHS.

Such a development would not just have turned a blind eye to councils' good progress in adult care, demonstrated in last year's social services star ratings (LGC, 14 November 2003). It would also have taken provision further down the path of acute services and away from a more progressive vision of promoting independence for elderly, disabled and mentally ill people through preventative, community based services.

Mr Ladyman has given valuable reassurance on a number of these issues. He has said the government wants councils to play a key role in shaping a new vision for the service and a takeover by health is not an option.

Services, in the Ladyman vision, will be joined-up, user-centred and preventative, taking in much more than just social services and the NHS.

Councils must accept Mr Ladyman's challenge to influence the government's plans.

Vital to this will be a willingness to modernise services, particularly through the active promotion of direct payments, take-up for which remains low.

What those on both sides of the local/central divide must try and avoid is a repeat of the children's green paper Every child matters, whose prescriptive message betrayed a lack of council input.

For this to happen the combative minister and former Thanet DC councillor needs to demonstrate that the DoH has finished with downplaying social care, and that his vision carries weight across government as a whole.


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