Learning Disabilities & Autism Opinion

What Keeps me Awake at Night … Steve Scown

Steve Scown, Chief Executive, Dimensions

Recent television programmes have left me feeling disturbed, frustrated and searching for words I haven’t previously used when describing what’s wrong with our health and social care system.

From the horrific abuse at Whorlton Hall, to the valiant efforts of Somerset’s adult social care team trying to meet people’s needs with inadequate funding, we’ve seen an unprecedented focus on how our system isn’t working. This reality will not have surprised many who work day-in day-out in social care. But will this exposure have increased public engagement or just prompted them to conclude this is very difficult and actually not really relevant to them?

It may be unpalatable, and by doing so I may bring upon myself much criticism, but we should acknowledge there is bad practice in our sector and in some of the darkest corners there will be people exerting control and abusing people in their care. When such behaviour is found it is absolutely right to shine a spotlight on it, bring the full force of the law to bear and then strive to understand how we can minimise the risk of reoccurrence and get better at speedily identifying it in the future.

Like other senior leaders in our sector I write blogs, I tweet and I speak at conferences. But am I – are we – spending our energy and our time making noise in an echo-chamber? Are we just engaging with those who are already engaged with and committed to improving the system we work within? Of late my thoughts have been turning to how can we engage with the public positively about changing the system and stop our political leaders from continually kicking us into the long grass. If we’ve learnt anything from failure of the post-Winterbourne Transforming Care agenda it’s that parts of the system are incredibly resistant to change. And who wants to take on a tough challenge? Not our MPs apparently, just four of whom turned up for the post-Panorama parliamentary social care debate.

Those of us who are engaged and part of our sector also know that it’s not all bad.

Great social care helps so many people who need some help and support stay safe, improve their health and well-being, learn new skills, form new friendships and relationships. Every social care provider has countless stories of how their efforts have transformed people’s lives. Ours include Liam, who through supported employment is now the main breadwinner in his family. Jackie, now living independently following 22 years in hospital. Katy, who arrived at Dimensions bedbound and weighing just 5 stone and who is now medication free and enjoying an active life.

The organisation I have the privilege of leading employs over 6,000 people and I genuinely don’t believe we employ anyone who comes to work not wanting to do a good job, not wanting to help people have a better life. The other day I met an assistant locality manager who previously had been a nightclub bouncer and a support worker who had been an engineer. Each of them is a passionate advocate for their new career path in social care.  

Employing great people across our sector achieves far more than reducing the likelihood of abusive practices. Through their contribution, not just to the people they support but to their local communities, we can build an unavoidable narrative about the true value of social care. If we can do that, we can talk about social care being a public service that politicians ensure receives the funding it deserves.

Looking around I’ve taken some inspiration from TeachFirst, the charity set up to encourage great new teachers to choose to work in tough places and change the lives of disadvantaged children across the country. Their work over the past two decades has gone a long way to reinventing teaching. I don’t believe we need yet another organisation in our crowded sector though.  What we have to understand is how to collectively inspire a new generation, to help people believe that social care is a great career option which makes a critically important contribution to society.

So how can we reach beyond the echo-chamber, engage with those who aren’t yet connected with our world and help them understand and value social care?  

Why not share your thoughts with Social Care Future, the informal group set up to discuss the best ways to reframe social care? https://socialcarefuture.blog/

Edel Harris





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