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SOCIAL CARE FEATURE - BUCKING THE PARTY LINE

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In the first of a three-part special on social care to launch our expanded coverage, Jon Hanlon meets incoming pres...
In the first of a three-part special on social care to launch our expanded coverage, Jon Hanlon meets incoming president of the ADSS Andrew Cozens

Being the national face of social care has never been tougher. Andrew Cozens assumes the presidency of the Association of Directors of Social Services as the Victoria Climbié and Tony-ann Byfield tragedies provide prima facie evidence of the system's flaws, and the government prepares to split adult and children's care.

Mr Cozens, corporate director for social care and health at Leicester City Council, has a blunt assessment of the state of social care policy.

Pragmatic about the level of change needed to wrest the system back from the brink, Mr Cozens' prognosis verges on the depressing.

'There is a lack of clarity about where the big ideas for social care are going to come from,' he says referring to the children's green paper announced by the government in September.

The paper's key recommendations include abolishing the role of social services director, a role which at the moment covers both children and adult's services, and scrapping the singular role of education director to create one super-job - a director of children's services.

Clearly the motive is to tackle any buck-passing by having one single manager accountable for all services which affect children, but Mr Cozens seems to believe this is a knee-jerk reaction that may look good on paper but falls down on the detail.

'While I do think legislation can say councils need to have a single director who is accountable for children's services, I don't believe this needs to happen by abolishing the two other roles. It seems ministers want to wrap up management and accountability in one, but my argument is that you need accountability to be spread out across a wider area, rather than contracted.'

Other criticisms surround the issue of creating children's trusts for vulnerable children, a scheme which his own council is piloting. While a commendable idea, he says that pos itioning these trusts between education and social services obscures the issue of who manages them.

Mr Cozens adds that the proposal's myopia also fails to address the responsibilities which are split between the police, health authorities and other children's agencies.

If the green paper is a direct response to the recent high-profile failures, Mr Cozens warns of its inadequacies: 'In the case of Victoria Climbié, yes there were failures by social services departments, but there were also failings in the NHS, and the director of children's services would not have any leverage over that.'The green paper's aspirations are fractured because they mirror the position in central government - as long as the Department of Health has responsibility for children's health and the Home Office is responsible for anti-social behaviour and offending, then it is going to be very hard to implement any clear lines of accountability at a local level.'

This do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do approach merely adds to the complexities of the social services arena where basic philosophical questions over its raison d'être still bubble away in the background.

'Some even hold the narrow view that social services and social care are primarily about preventing unnecessary admissions to hospital and speeding up discharges from hospital,' says Mr Cozens.

'And in terms of children, there are unresolved issues about whether the focus should be on their welfare, or their treatment by the NHS, or whether the priority should be tackling anti-social behaviour and offending.'

He is already steeling himself for continuing tensions with the NHS. 'I think there is a danger there'll be fracture lines in terms of communication with the NHS.

In terms of adult services, there is a fight for their very future. My pitch in my presidential year is to propose a future where social care is not simply a sub-set of the NHS but is actually part of councils' wider responsibilities.'

He points to former health secretary Alan Milburn's idea to absorb adult care into the NHS, a plan which has largely failed to take off since its launch last year.

The idea was to develop care trusts within the NHS, into which aspects of the health service and local government were transferred, effectively combining

adult health and social care services into a single organisation.

While a care trust in Bexley, south-east London is due to be launched this autumn, it is only the third of its kind this year. The launch of a further seven scheduled for 2003 has been delayed or postponed indefinitely because of financial and legal problems.

Sorely disappointed by its failure to set the sector alight, the government has launched a review of the care trust project. Appropriately it coincided with the dissolution of a pioneering partnership between Barking & Dagenham LBC's social services department and the local primary care trust.

The council terminated its joint-management arrangements with the local PCT for health and social services after an internal disagreement between the two agencies left the partnership untenable.

Community care minister Stephen Ladyman, who is heading the review, says the episode provided a learning experience for other care organisations planning partnership arrangements.

Mr Cozens is not merely standing on the sidelines picking holes in every new government initiative, however. It is clear from his plain-speaking approach that under his stewardship, the ADSS will be aiming to direct the future of social services.

'We need to redefine social care within local government as a much broader focus around housing support, community safety, neighbourhood renewal, and possibly even public protection and trading standards.'

He is also keen to get more people involved in the debate by opening up the association's membership to everyone who reports to council chief executives on social care matters - not just directors.

But as for the green paper, it may already be a runaway train. The consultation period is short and Mr Cozens says it is his understanding that there will be no white paper before it becomes a bill.

'The problem in social services is that even with the most robust of frameworks in place, you cannot legislate for the actions of very dangerous people. The difficulty with this paper is that it suggests this is a relatively simple situation to fix, but it is in fact highly complex. Human nature is complex.'

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