By Michelle Thompson Managing Director of Unique Homecare
The social care sector is facing significant change. For some, that poses a threat that feels like an impossible mountain to climb. For others, the challenges within social care are opportunities to develop and lead innovation within the sector. In this article, we will consider some of the many challenges within social care and how effective and proactive leadership turns the various stumbling blocks and dilemmas facing the sector in 2021 into development opportunities.
Naming the Many Challenges
A 2018 report by the King’s Fund identified the following challenges facing the sector:
• Need and demand
• Market sustainability and fairness
• Workforce and carers
• Quality and efficiency
• Integration with housing, health and the benefits system.
For anyone working in the social care sector, these challenges are not surprising. They certainly are not surprising for the leadership team at Unique Homecare. As a market leading provider home care services who offer a holistic model of quality home and respite care, we have faced these issues head on. These challenges are not going to simply disappear overnight. Combined with the catastrophic impact of COVID-19 upon the sector, leadership within social care is certainly not for the faint hearted. Yet, within every challenge lies opportunity for growth.
Let us consider some of these challenges in turn and look at leadership approaches that can bring about transformation.
Leading on Need and Demand
An ageing population means a changing and increasing demand for social care provision. Whilst this can mean pressure to meet demand, especially for providers facing staff shortages and difficulties in recruitment and retention, it also presents a real opportunity for growth in the sector. Leaders within the sector have a key role to play in the creating of an adaptable and flexible service that effectively meets growing demand and changes public perceptions around social care.
Such adaptation requires accurate market data. It is crucial that leaders in social care are aware of both sector developments at a National level, as well as the needs within their local community. Awareness of such needs means leaders can be proactive rather than reactive, tailoring appropriate services that respond to local demand.
Leading on Eligibility and Funding
Few people who could benefit from quality care provision benefit from publicly funded support and are confused about eligibility criteria. There is lack of public awareness about the current system and its limitations. For example, many people eligible for Attendance Allowance or a Carers Assessment that could fund respite provision have no idea of these potential supports or how to access them, which results in people delaying seeking home care. Collaboration with local communities to share helpful information about the benefits of timely and appropriate social care to support independent living can make a real difference to the sector, as well as potential service users and their families. Effective leaders in social care should be initiating conversations around social care within their community.
Leading on Market Sustainability and Fairness
The social care sector is a competitive marketplace, with tight profit margins. There is wide local variation in the supply of care and some self-funded service users feel aggrieved that they pay substantial premiums that keep business viable.
Again, clear communication by social care leaders is vital in rising to these challenges. Social care leaders have a key role in communicating the ‘why’ of social care – why it matters, and why high-quality care requires investment.
At Unique Homecare we are clear that our “why” is based on a vision of providing a holistic model of care that ensures clients receive quality care in the comfort of their own homes. Our staff understand this vision and our vision permeates through all our communications. By ensuring this happens, all stakeholders gain a clear understanding of the value and cost effectiveness of high-quality care.
Leading on Workforce and Quality of Care
Anyone involved in recruitment within the social care sector knows the difficulties associated with high vacancy rates. Yes, the spotlight upon the role of carers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has raised the profile of social care work, yet it remains the case that many positions offer low pay and offer few incentives.
With passionate advocacy of your ‘why’ and being sure to recognise the asset you have in good quality employees; leaders can help mitigate these challenges. Invest in staff by offering excellent training and effective supervision that encourages collaboration between front line workers and managers. Such investment and support of staff makes it more likely you will retain staff and equip them to work effectively to provide high quality care.