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The Care Act receives royal assent: what does this mean for adult social work?

Care ActThe Care Act has received royal assent. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

The Care Act, which has recently attained royal assent, will bring far-reaching and welcome changes to social care provision. The Act puts principles into statute that have long been in the domain of social work, and provides a script for modern social work with adults.

Developing services in the runup to 2015 is an opportunity to position social work at the heart of excellent social care but this also presents challenges to the profession in acquainting itself with the new care landscape. Under the new legislation, local authorities will be required to carry out their care and support functions with the aim of integrating services with those provided by the NHS and any other health-related service (such as housing).

The act introduces a new duty for authorities to promote wellbeing in all decisions regarding an individual's care needs, and assessments must consider the whole family. Local authorities will also have to guarantee preventative services which could help reduce or delay the development of care and support needs. The act directs public services to provide advice and information, continuity of care and inter-professional working. It puts safeguarding on a statutory footing for the first time, and extends the role of advocacy.

Social work has traditionally worked across interdisciplinary boundaries to ensure that people's needs and aspirations remain at the forefront of decision-making. Professionals are legally literate in protecting and advancing human rights and are skilled in working with those whose circumstances highlight the complex interface between private family life and state intervention. Social workers are adept at assessing risk, preventing harm, promoting self-determination, and working with other organisations.

In its broadest sense, the principle of wellbeing requires assessments to be holistic; less about deficit models of care, and more about enabling people to build on their strengths. Social workers are trained to consider the person and their needs in the whole, and assessment models are driven by principles of self-determination, dignity and respect.

These skills will be crucial in enabling local authorities to provide assessments that are both appropriate and proportionate, as set out by the duty in the act. Map this professional blueprint to the design of the act and it is hard not to see the harmony.

Social workers can provide an authoritative, reliable voice in ensuring that all parts of local authority functions are guided by the high standards of practice set by the professional regulator or by the College of Social Work. This should include those local authority functions, which the act allows to be delegated to a third party.

In whatever way local authorities decide to deploy their social work staff to meet the challenges of the act, it is clear that the potential impact of the profession is enormous, and will be a key part of integrating care. .



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