‘Who is Helping Who?’ – Co-Production and Professional Boundaries within Social Care services.

By Nick Andrews

I have been working in education and social care for thirty years, and have seen various new initiatives and buzz words come and go, whilst the fundamental principles of humanity remain the same. ‘Co-production’ in its truest senses is grounded in these principles. However, as with the concepts of ‘personalisation’ and ‘reablement’, there is a real danger that the term  ‘co-production’ is misused for hegemonic purposes to cover up what is essentially a cost cutting exercise. Under this scenario, individuals and their communities are expected to take on more responsibility for their own well-being whilst the machine of impersonal and ‘professionalised’ public services carries on as it always has done, albeit it with a few less staff employed. In my opinion, this would be a travesty and missed opportunity to restore warm humanity as the driving force for public services, not compliance with increasingly centralised and de-personalised processes and systems.

One of my favourite quotes by the theologian Martin Buber is ‘all real living is meeting’. Please note that Buber’s understanding of the term ‘meeting’ is much richer than the idea of putting a group of people together in a room or placing nurses and social workers in the same office, which is commonly assumed to result in integrated practice. I am sure many people will share my experience of being in meetings where no one actually met, where each person had their own agenda and the purpose of the meeting was to get this across – to win the argument.  For Buber, ‘meeting’ is about genuinely connecting with other people and being changed in some way by the process. In order to explain this process, he talks about two ways of relating to people and the world, which he calls ‘I-It’ and ‘I-Thou’.

In ‘I-it’ relationships, the person is detached and unaffected. In ‘I-Thou’ relationships, the person is attached and vulnerable. Tom Kitwood, in his seminal book ‘Dementia Reconsidered – The Person Comes First’ talks about his experience of seeing how people living with dementia were dehumanised through receiving emotionally detached task based care:

‘A man or woman could be given the most accurate diagnosis, subjected to the most thorough assessment, provided with a highly detailed care plan and given a place in the most pleasant of surroundings – without any meeting of the I-Thou kind ever having taken place’ (Kitwood, 1997)

By contrast, I believe that genuine co-production facilitates and nurtures the development of ‘I-Thou’ relationships between all parties, which in so doing begins to challenge the prevailing understanding of professionalism and professional boundaries.  In relation to this, I am currently co-ordinating a NISCHR and Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) funded project in Wales, which is focused on the use of evidence from their ‘A Better Life – for older people with high support needs’ programme, along with other forms of evidence in social care service and workforce development.

The ‘A Better Life’ programme has identified that relationships are key and ‘Often it is the simple things that bring the most pleasure (and the lack of them can bring a sense of sadness and loss) and services do not always seem to be very good at delivering ‘the ordinary’’. (Blood, 2013 p13)

The research challenges also call for a different way of working, which is often alien to the world of emotionally detached and compliance focussed task based care, which is summed up nicely in the following quote by Edgar Cahn:

‘The world of helping others in need is now built around one-way transactions…. and with the best of intentions, one-way transactions often send two messages unintentionally. They say: “We have something you need – but you have nothing we need or want or value.”’  (Cahn, 2004).

In a series of recent focus groups and learning events involving older people, carers and frontline staff, I have been struck by how many people feel that current regulation and guidance is risk averse restrictive and at worst destructive of human relationships. For example, workforce regulation states ‘the inappropriate use of touch is not permissible’, rather than ‘the appropriate use of touch is fabulous and to be encouraged’. This is a particular issue for people living with dementia, who often have to express themselves and connect with others through feelings and emotions. Frontline staff talk have talked about feeling guilty when they do little kind things that are not written in the Care Plan or receiving small gifts of appreciation, older people have been ‘told off’ (in the name of health and safety) for pouring tea for others in day services, and carers have been made to feel that they no longer have a role when the person they love goes into a care home.

At the heart of co-production, is an understanding that everyone has something to contribute and that exchanging these contributions is enriching for everyone concerned.  I am reminded of the work of Jean Vanier, who established the L’Arche Communities in learning disability services. Vanier did not see his role as caring for people with learning difficulties, but rather sharing his life with them and being open to receive and learn from them as much as to offer them support.

I am reminded of one of my earliest experience of working in social care services. It was 1984 and I had started my first job as a residential support worker in a children’s home. I thought I was the ‘sorted one’ who was employed to help others. I worked hard to form good working relationships with staff and children in the home, but one boy, who had experienced a lot of hurt in his life, kept his emotional distance. As anyone who knows me well can tell you, I am not gifted in DIY or anything that involves fixing something mechanical. One day, I was trying to repair my bicycle (I did not drive at the time) and was getting nowhere fast. The boy walked past me and said ‘I’ve got a book about repairing bikes, do you want to borrow it?’. I am pleased to say that I took up his offer and our friendship took off from that day. He is now a happily married 43 years old who lives on the other side of the country, but we still keep in contact via Facebook and phone and offer each other support and encouragement whenever we can.

Jean Vanier once said, ‘I am struck by how sharing our weakness and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes’. This is an important message for social care practitioners and agencies. We need to open our ears, our eyes and our hearts to the people we work with, which might involve sharing our vulnerabilities and concerns and allowing ourselves to be changed by genuinely ‘meeting’ with them in truly co-productive relationships.

 

References

Blood, I. A Better Life – Valuing Our Later Years, York, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, available at: http://www.jrf.org.uk/publications/better-life-valuing-our-later-years

Cahn, E. (2004), No more throw away people – the co-production imperative, Washington, Essential Books

Rethinking Age in the Context of Care

Age- and stage-based assumptions are deeply embedded in care models and across care practices (Grenier, 2012). Whether care is used to refer broadly to a concept, institutional and organisational practices, or to denote relationships between families and older people, age and care are intricately intertwined. This entry focuses on care provision as a site from which to consider the intersections of age and care, and whether current models are in line with older people’s needs, and the new realities of ageing. Care is often linked with discourses of dependence, and paradoxically associated with potential in youth, and decline in age (see Irwin, 1995; Gullette, 2004). In late life, care tends to be delivered based on age eligibility. Yet, with age and what it ‘means to grow old’ an increasingly contested terrain, it is time to reconsider how age is enacted or sustained through care practices, and consider whether age-based models of care are suitable in the contemporary context.

 

A number of complexities exist when we begin to unpick age and the organisation of care. Formal care provision tends to be delivered through age-based segments of youth and old age. Few formal care services are life-long. Yet, the separation of the life course into age- and stage-based periods, age as an organising principle, and former notions of ageing as decline have been called into question (Featherstone and Hepworth, 1991; Hockey and James, 2003). At the level of personal experience, older people voice that ‘they are not old’ – that the age they are assigned contrasts with their experience and sense of self (see Kaufman, 1986; Bytheway, 2011). This has created a disjuncture where suggested models and expectations are concerned, as well as an alignment with new forms of ageing that emphasise success, health and well-being (see Katz, 2005). And while universal understandings of age are quickly being unravelled, undeniable needs for care amongst older people continue to exist. Older people may need care at various points across their life course as a result of disability or chronic illness, ‘frailty’ or end of life issues, and/or at particular marginalised locations (e.g., poverty, older homelessness). Yet, are such needs for care age-based?

 

We are at a crossroads where the age-based provision of care is concerned. Although reconfigurations of policy based on chronological age are underway (e.g., public pension), current examples focus on age adjustments, rather than on differing needs or alternate arrangements. Perhaps the retention of age is prudent considering the realities of ageism, reconfiguring age to reduce social expenditure, and the structured inequities in late life (see Gee and Gutman, 2000). However, the contemporary context calls for reflection at minimum. How do we catch up with emerging realities of aging and adjust the organisation of care accordingly? Should age be used to organise care services? If so, in what circumstances? If not, how can we assure that those in need are not further marginalised? Such questions represent a starting point from which to reconsider age-based models of care, question underlying assumptions, and reconfigure care practices so that they are more aligned with changing notions of age and contemporary care needs.

 

Amanda Grenier, PhD, Associate Professor, McMaster University

email: amanda.grenier@mcmaster.ca

twitter: @amanda__grenier

 

References:

Bytheway, B. (2011). Unmasking age: the significance of age for social research. Bristol: The Policy Press.

Featherstone, M., and Hepworth, M. (1991). ‘The mask of ageing and the postmodern lifecourse’ In M. Featherstone, M. Hepworth and A. Wernick (eds) Images of ageing, London: Routledge.

Gee, E. M., and Gutman, G. M. (2000). The overselling of population aging: apocalyptic demography, intergenerational challenges, and social policy, New York: Oxford University Press.

Grenier, A. (2012). Transitions and the lifecourse: challenging the constructions of ‘growing old‘. Bristol: Policy Press.

Gullette, M. M. (2004). Aged by culture, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hockey, J., and James, A. (2003). Social identities across the lifecourse, Houndmills: Palgrave MacMillan.

Irwin, S. (1995). Rights of passage: social change and the transition from youth to adulthood,  London and Bristol: UCL Press.

Katz, S. (2005). Cultural aging: life course, lifestyle, and senior worlds, Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press.

Kaufman, S. (1986). The ageless self: sources of meaning in late life, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

 

Care as a Value and Valuing Care, by Professor Marian Barnes

The Observer on 8th June published a story demonstrating the impact of recent Government changes to housing benefits. As a result of being forced to move from Westminster to Brent because of benefit changes, Hanane Toumi and her young children aged 6 and 3 have to travel 5 miles each morning to get to school and nursery, before Hanane then travels to another part of London to work as a cleaner.  It has not been possible to get a school place near their new accommodation and nursery places are more expensive. Local government officers in Westminster and Brent have acknowledged that the situation is ‘not ideal’, but do not accept that the exhaustion and emotional impact resulting from this are a reason for reviewing the family’s situation.

Benefit changes introduced by the Coalition Government in the UK have been roundly condemned. But Ed Miliband’s announcement that an incoming Labour government would put a cap on the overall cost of benefits doesn’t inspire hope that too much would change.  What does this say about the value attached to ‘care’ by politicians and local officials? The Observer story was framed in relation to evidence that, rather than costing less, the financial cost to the state of homelessness is going up because of the costs of funding temporary accommodation for low income families in wealthy areas.  But implied within the story is the lack of care shown by the state about the everyday lives of women such as Hanane and her children. As a result of government decisions at national and local level Hanane’s capacity to care for her children and herself is severely compromised. Her daughter falls asleep at school and her emotional welfare is suffering.

Care ethicist Eva Kittay has named ‘epistemic responsibility’ and ‘epistemic modesty’ as fundamental principles for the ethical conduct of philosophy and I have suggested we should similarly apply these principles to the making of social policies. If policy makers neither know about or understand the circumstances and consequences of the policies they make, nor care about the lives of those impacted by these policies, then policy will not only be ineffective but unethical. Joan Tronto named ‘competence’ as one dimension of care and the experiential knowledge of those who live in poverty, and experience at first hand the impact of government policy, is essential to shaping  policies that are attentive to people’s everyday lives. But the Coalition government has proved itself to be unconcerned about making policy on the basis of ‘evidence’ when it comes to benefit changes. And the Labour leadership appears reluctant to articulate a value based approach to welfare.

Unless politicians and public officials recognise that they should care, that caring involves knowing what you’re talking about, and that care is a value that should guide social policy, experiences such as that of Hanane Toumi and her children will simply not be seen to matter.  Naming care as a value as well as valuing care are equally essential.

12/6/13

Marian  Barnes

Professor of Social Policy
School of Applied Social Science
University of Brighton
Mayfield House
Falmer, Brighton BN1 9PH

Barnes, M (2012) Care in Everyday Life: an ethic of care in practice, Bristol, Policy Press.

Kittay, E. F. (2010). The Personal is Philosophical is Political: A Philosopher and Mother of a Cognitively Disabled Person Sends Notes from the Battlefield. Cognitive Disability and its Challenge to Moral Philosophy. E. F. Kittay and L. Carlson. Chichester, Wiley-Blackwell: 393-413.

Tronto, J. (1993). Moral Boundaries. A Political Argument for an Ethic of Care. London and New York, Routledge.