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Using examples from the course materials, analyse the barriers and the opportunities for frontline managers in implementing effective consultation with service users

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Using examples from the course materials, analyse the barriers and the opportunities for frontline managers in implementing effective consultation with service users

During this assignment I aim to answer the question by first looking at the barriers in implementing effective consultation with service users and then by looking at the opportunities. At the present time I am working within a residential unit for teenagers who display abuse reactive behaviours. I am not the manager of this unit but occupy a shift leader post.

There are many, many barriers that a frontline manager may have to overcome and I can only attempt to cover a small percentage of those here. I have opted to choose those barriers that can be related to my own work to focus on.

In the course reader, Henderson and Seden talk about the pressures on managers to perform all of their duties whilst staying ‘in touch’ with the grass routes of their work. They go on to say that “The importance of communication and relationships was stressed by service users who thought that the more distant from practice a manager becomes, the less the manager was aware of the very real effects of decisions” (Henderson and Seden, 2003, p. 85). This is very true of my place of work where recently my manager had to work ‘on shift’ due to staff shortages, all of the young people were shocked by the lack of knowledge she had into every day routine and their likes and dislikes. They became fed-up with the constant questions they needed to answer and just gave up communicating in the end. It was clear that they felt that she should have known all about them as she makes major decisions about their lives. Any consultation here, in a relaxed forum, was halted by a lack of ‘grass routes’ knowledge.

Competing agenda’s between manager’s and staff can also cause major difficulties in implementing consultation at all, as discussed in book one, section 1.3 of the course materials (Aldgate,2003, p. 17). Again, in my place of work this is clearly demonstrated. Many staff feel that the ‘all about us meetings’ and ‘staff meetings’ that are held are fruitless. This is because many decisions are made but rarely adhered to. This results are that the young people complain, quite rightly, that they do not know where they stand and are beginning to suffer from an inconsistent approach. However, the management team appear to be convinced that these meetings do work, remaining unaware that the unsupportive thoughts of the staff team are being relayed between the staff group and the young people.

The above example can also be closely related to the issues discussed in book one, section 2.4. Here the authors talk about how “action of some kind must follow consultation” (Connelly, 2003, p.  36) . This clearly does not happen in my place of work where the young people are left wondering what happened to the results of their ’all about us’ meetings and the suggestions that they made. It would surely be of benefit to introduce both an action plan and a follow-up meeting. As Beresford and Croft point out service user involvement needs to be approached in a “holistic and strategic way”. (Beresford and Croft, 2003, p. 27)

In the course reader Beresford and Croft write about the more practical barriers influencing service user involvement. “user involvement costs money and takes time. Additional support needs to be costed into budgets” (Beresford and Croft, 2003, p. 25). The organisation I work for has no budget for this but rates service user involvement highly in their mission statement. The young people have often suggested that ’all about us’ meetings take place outside of the unit so any issues within the environment can be ’left behind’. However, they are aware that any cost which this may produce would be taken out of their recreation budget. The unfairness of this situation can easily be seen and so the reluctance of the young people to participate spreads further.  

The final barrier I wish to look at involves a potential imbalance of power, lack of insight and restriction of liberty. When I look at my place of work I can immediately see an adult/ young person relationship which automatically demonstrates an imbalance of power. The manager implementing the service user involvement is also the person who makes potentially life-changing decisions about the young people and also imposes sanctions and restrictions. I feel it may be helpful to get the young person’s thoughts on introducing a third ‘neutral’ party to the consultation process, as a way of re balancing the power issue.

In book 1, section 1.3 it is written that “Care services are frequently provided for people whose liberty has been restricted in their own or other people’s interests” (Aldgate, 2003, p. 10). This is never more poignant than when you look at the user’s of the service for which I work. Each of the young people in my care are on a full care order but all of them wish to live with the very people they are being protected from, this often demonstrates a lack of insight. They all resent being ‘in care’ and they rarely acknowledge the reasons why they are. Can these service user’s offer an objective view? And who makes that decision? It is clear that all of the young people discussed here would rather be somewhere else so will their expectations be unrealistic and unreasonable?

The Opportunities and benefits of service user involvement have been proven throughout the course materials but never more so than through the video showing the director of Cleveland and Redcar Mind at work (Video 1, programme 1) and through the work of Beresford and croft in the course reader where they write “practice should always be based on seeking the thoughts, views and idea’s of service users” (Beresford and Croft. 2003, p. 24). In this section of the assignment I will continue to use my place of work to provide relevant examples.

Trust is often an issue at my place of work, the young people in my care have often experienced adults abusing their trust and this is a major issue in their lives. Yet, done properly, service user consultation and involvement can help to overcome this issue. The written course materials on the Reith lectures looks into this further “Openness or transparency is now all too easy: if they can produce or restore trust, trust should surely be within our group” (Reith Lectures, 2002, p. 18). It is acknowledged that some information cannot be given to the young people and many issues, because of legal obligations, cannot be discussed openly but the Rieth lectures point out “secrecy and lack of transparency may not be enemies of trust”. (Reith Lectures, 2002, p. 19) I feel in this case it is important to be open with young people about why certain issues cannot become open to either service user involvement or group discussion.

The opportunities to improve staff groups are also widened by service user involvement and/ or consultation. During my own career in care I have seen service user involvement in recruitment grow and grow over recent years and this can only be a positive thing. It has also become more and more common to recruit service users themselves, again this is a very positive development which is discussed in the course reader. In fact the routes for moving forward written by Beresford and croft with service user involvement include both points. Indeed they go on to say that “if the ‘them and us’ of service user involvement is to be fully and effectively challenged, then it is crucial that service provider, commissioning and research organisations develop equal opportunities employment policies which value and support the employment of people with experience as welfare service users” (Beresford and Croft, 2003, p. 25). In the organisation that I work for at the moment this is neither actively encouraged or discouraged but our policies are in line with the Disability Discrimination Act and The Human Rights Act, which provides a framework for this to change. My line manager has experience of being a ‘looked after’ child but did not discuss this during the recruitment process, it would be interesting to find out why but she remains quite ‘closed’ on the subject at present.

Throughout my work leading up to this assignment I have been constantly surprised by the amount of barriers a frontline manager could come across in his/ her road to implementing effective consultation with service users. However, I have found that if consultation is approached in the correct way and the manager and his/ her organisation have a belief in it and are willing to put recourses and policy behind it then it can work. The positive outcomes of service user involvement are widespread after all services are built to meet the needs of the people using it. However, I have also found that service user involvement within the organisation for which I work is ineffective. The road to improvement will need a lot of hard work, support, trust, policy and belief put into it in order for things to improve. And if we are to improve things then we have to begin by involving the young people in a more holistic and strategic way.

References

Henderson, J., Atkinson, D. (2003) Managing Care In Context, London, Routledge.                                                                                          

Reynolds, J., Henderson, J., Seden, J., Charlesworth, J., Bullman, A. (2003) The Managing Care Reader, London, Routledge.

Resources, “Trust and Transparency”, p. 18-19.

Video, Programme 1, ‘Creative Links’.

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