Connecting practice with policy

We have now trained fourteen agencies across England in the Connecting People Intervention (CPI) model. We use the term ‘training’ loosely, because much of what we have been doing is facilitating a collaborative learning process. This has been especially insightful for members our research team, who have sought to make each training day bespoke to the agency based on strengths and needs of the workers. We don’t see traditional roles of ‘trainee’ and ‘trainer’!

As you know from this previous post, the health and social care agencies involved in the study are very diverse, yet many face similar challenges to their ways of working with people receiving services. From our discussions with social workers, community psychiatric nurses, occupational therapists, community development workers and support time and recovery workers, we are gaining a better understanding of how the CPI model fits into existing practice. The feedback thus far has been positive, with most workers affirming that the model largely describes the work they are currently doing.

We are also learning from practitioners how recent changes in policy impact on their work and the implementation of the CPI model. For example, community mental health teams are under pressure to discharge people back to primary care much earlier than previously. While consonant with the principles of autonomy, independence and social inclusion, this reduces the time which practitioners have to engage with people and help develop their circles of support prior to discharge. Sometimes social workers are able to do little more than sign-posting to other resources before moving people on and out of ‘the system’.

NHS targets such as CQUIN and payment by results are shaping practice in mental health services. Additionally, the move towards personal budgets and self-directed support in social care are shaping social work practice. Both can squeeze out working with local communities and communities of interest to implement the CPI model. However, agencies participating in the CPI study are finding creative ways to incorporate the model into their practice. In Derby, for example, social workers are using the model to define their practice and articulate their distinctive role in working with people with mental health problems.

Last week I spoke to a conference of mental health social workers in London about their untapped potential (my presentation can be downloaded here). I argued that an over-reliance on statutory functions to define mental health social work leaves the profession vulnerable to the whims of policy makers. There was an overwhelming consensus from practitioners that bureaucracy needs to be reduced and more time freed up to work with people to implement ways of working as described in the CPI model. Senior social work leaders involved in the CPI study are working hard to free up time for practitioners to work in this way, but there is a long way to go in re-defining mental health social work as the locus of social intervention in mental health services.

In terms of the CPI study, these changes are relevant to our recruitment of new referrals to the study and the way that practitioners are engaging with those individuals.  For example, in agencies where the social work role is to primarily assess individuals, the intervention is defined as building a relationship and then engaging collaboratively to identify their strengths, needs, and interests, then signpost them to other services.  From our perspective this equal partnership developed between the worker and individual is still adhering to the CPI model and therefore such individuals would be eligible for participation in the CPI study.

As we aim to recruit up to 240 individuals in the coming months we look forward to capturing how policy impacts on practitioners and service users, and on the implementation of the CPI model. We welcome your feedback on how policy impacts on your practice within the CPI model or your experience of it. Please feel free to leave comments below.

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