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PROMISING PROSPECTS FOR GWYNEDD SOCIAL SERVICES (PLUS COUNCIL'S RESPONSE)

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Gwynedd social services are serving some people well and have promising prospects for further improvement, accordin...
Gwynedd social services are serving some people well and have promising prospects for further improvement, according to a report published jointly by the Audit Commission and the Social Services Inspectorate.

The report, part of a rolling programme of reviews to assess the performance of social services in England and Wales, found that overall Gwynedd has some good quality, caring services that are well appreciated by local people. The council is praised for its determination to modernise and reshape its services to help people to live more independently.

The review highlights some particular strengths that will help the council achieve its ambitions:

- a willingness to listen and learn from the experience of users and carers. A basis of goodwill exists between the council and its service users demonstrated by one of the highest levels of user satisfaction with services achieved by any reviewed council to date. This will assist with the inevitable strains in relationships when faced with the upheaval of reshaping services;

- experience of running some good and innovative projects designed to support people in the community;

- some good relationships with important partners across the council and with Health;

- evidence of the council getting better organised to deliver change.

The council understands the areas on which it needs to focus and is starting to tackle these, including:

- focusing more on supporting older people better in their own homes and rather less on providing institutional care. This means more flexible home care, more intensive services to support people at times of crisis and speedier access to mobility aids and adaptations. This can be achieved by switching resources from heavy expenditure on buildings towards more community based services provided hand in hand with other local organisations;

- tackling some of the gaps in services, for example, in meeting the needs of older people with a mental illness, in ensuring more family support services and better cover out of hours;

- making more explicit what people can expect from social services and to what standard;

- improving management arrangements in order to ensure a more consistent response across the council and to support a better understanding of what is going on at the front-line and what things cost.

Sue Mead, associate director of joint reviews commented:

'Gwynedd has a good solid base from which to improve further. It has shown an openness to new ideas and a willingness to tackle some difficult issues in order to ensure the council better supports all the people who need its help. It deserves support in its efforts to deliver more flexibility, choice and best value for the community it serves.'

A press release from Gwynedd Council follows:

High level of satisfaction with Gwynedd's Social Services

An independent report, presented to the council this afternoon, shows high levels of satisfaction amongst social services clients in Gwynedd. 85% said that services were excellent or good, one of the highest levels of satisfaction with services reported in any Joint Review of Social Services in England and Wales.

Today's report details the findings of a joint review carried out by team of inspectors working for the Audit Commission and the National Assembly, over a 4-month period earlier this year.

The purpose was to assess the extent to which people in Gwynedd are well served by their social services and whether the council is able to implement improvement in services.

Social Services are praised for:

- Their sincerity and their commitment to people and their work

- Upholding humanitarian values and understanding how these are evolving to meet the expectations of today's service users and carers

- Listening to service users and carers and willingness to learn and change

- Working well with other agencies and professionals

- Getting more organised in their systems and approaches

- Being willing to try new approaches

The report makes specific reference to some of the difficult issues facing the council such as the way it provides care for the elderly. The inspectors state that:

Gwynedd has one of the highest levels of expenditure in Wales on services for older people but the highest level of residential care and insufficient community-based alternatives. The council maintains 15 residential homes, all below national standards; decisions to close some homes and change the management arrangements of others need to be implemented. The council is actively exploring the development of home-based services, which most older people say they prefer.

and

The main service challenge is to switch resources from the heavy expenditure on buildings and institutional care to more flexible community-based services. This is already happening. People increasingly prefer a service that comes to them at home. Some residential care will still be needed and will have to be of a high quality to meet national standards.

The closure of some homes is inevitable given that they cannot be brought up to minimum standards within a reasonable financial commitment.

As far as services for older people are concerned the Inspectors state implementing an improvement plan for residential care as a priority.

The council has already started this process and over the coming months will continue to consult with residents and staff, assess the exact costs and practicalities of adapting buildings to meet with the new standards, explore the possibility of working in partnership with other, not for profit organisations, to provide alternative options for older people in Gwynedd.

The results of this work will be presented to councillors later this year. Final decisions will then be taken in respect of implementing a five-year strategy.

Welcoming the report Cllr Pat Larsen, who leads on social services on Gwynedd Council's board said:

'We're pleased to have such positive feedback from the review. It praises many aspects of the services but also draws attention to areas where more work needs to be done.

'The sincerity and commitment of the staff are praised as are the council's willingness to listen to service users and carers and to learn and change accordingly. The council is also praised for working well with other agencies and professionals.

'But the report also emphasises the need for shifting resources to help more people to remain in their own homes.

'Our responsibility and indeed our commitment is to continue to improve our services, making them more flexible to meet the changing needs of individuals.'

Notes

Amongst the examples of good practice highlighted are:

1. Arfon Community Link supporting people with severe learning disabilities providing a range of activities and one-to-one support within a community setting. The schemes is an alternative to the traditional day centre.

2. Partnership with a number of innovative training and employment providers. A number of not-for profit organisations have emerged in the area, supported by the Council. For example Antur Waunfawr providing training and employment, Menter Fachwen providing a similar service in the Llanberis area and Agoriad a voluntary organisation providing assessment, training and employment placements in mainstream businesses throughout Gwynedd for people with learning disabilities or mental health problems.

3. Rural day-care services run in partnership with Age Concern providing day-care services for people in small rural communities. It runs around 60 day clubs reaching some 7,000 people. Local hotels, schools or village halls are used depending on what is best for the locality. Funding is divided between the council and Age Concern.

4. Consulting service users and carers on developing services. Service users with learning disabilities now sit on council planning groups. The consultation on the future needs of people with learning disabilities included a conference for users. Parents of people with learning disabilities are involved in working groups on assessment and care management, housing and the long-term needs of young people with challenging behaviour.

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