Social care leadership: Now is the time to shine a light on the creative ways leadership operates in learning disability and autism services

Man jumping for joy outdoors with support workerThere have been a number of recent occasions when we have heard or, as happened just last week, read in print that “it is recognised that social care lacks high quality senior leaders”. This statement came from a programme manual that describes a model that, for a cost of £95m, purports to set out how this is going to be fixed.

To our knowledge, beyond anecdotal analysis from some sources (which may be accurate in specific parts of the sector), no evidence is being offered to substantiate these claims and the basis for stating that it is recognised that the sector is affected by a lack of quality leaders and by whom is not clear.

We should not be surprised if many of the leaders who kept people with a learning disability, their loved ones and their staff safe during a two-year period of unprecedented pressure and relentless challenge find such claims offensive.

The Kings Fund offers a more considered and in our view appropriate take, suggesting that now would be a great time to undertake a review of leadership in the social care sector that takes account of the diverse range of people who are supported, the settings in which that support is delivered and the skills, experience and knowledge of people who lead and work in those settings.

We think that, as was the case with the Kings Fund review that was undertaken in February 2021, it is entirely possible that such a review would shine a light on the creative ways that leadership operates in learning disability and autism services. This is where managers and leaders have adapted to year after year of being tasked with delivering more for less, whilst at the same time motivating and striving to retain a workforce that in many cases is paid at the lowest rate of pay that it is legal to pay someone in the UK for doing a job that often places the life, safety and well-being of others in their hands.

That these services are still going is attributable in no small part to the imaginative and dedicated managers and leaders who have to fight with the wider system every day on behalf of people who can’t do that for themselves and at ARC, we look forward to seeing their leadership recognised and celebrated should it one day be decided that the social care sector leaders are just as deserving of support and recognition as their peers working in NHS settings.

Clive Parry, ARC England Director