Amanda Edwards: A diverse front-line workforce needs competent supervisors

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The Independent Online

Being a diverse social care organisation - that is, an organisation that represents the community it serves throughout the organisational hierarchy - should not be about ticking the right boxes just to be seen to be doing the right thing. Organisations should promote diversity because diverse organisations offer better services. A social care organisation that successfully promotes diversity within will take account of age, disability, gender and race issues and engage with service users meaningfully and on their level. In practice, this could mean extending choice and control to a young disabled Asian woman who wants to live independently in an extension of her parents' home, or assessing an asylum seeker's social care needs by communicating with them in his or her language, in an environment that feels safe for them.

An integral part of the green paper on adult social care, "Independence, well-being and choice", is the commitment to promote diversity by developing a workforce that is able to challenge discrimination; increasing the availability of direct payments (cash payments made in lieu of social service provisions, to individuals who have been assessed as needing services); and by making greater use of the voluntary and community sector. In particular, the green paper stresses involving those people and sections of the community that social services has found hard to involve in the past. Traditionally, black and ethnic minority service users have been less engaged with social services, and this group has failed to benefit from the choice and flexibility of direct payments.

But how can organisations promote equality and diversity effectively? To answer this question, it is useful to firstly consider what black and ethnic minority people identify as the barriers to accessing services. These include a lack of knowledge of the availability of support; a lack of appropriate services; poor-quality services; insufficient choice of services; workers without the skills to communicate effectively; workers without the experience and skills needed to work with diverse communities, and direct and institutional discrimination.

To break down these barriers organisations need to plan and involve service users in the delivery of services; design and provide services which are based on what people want; implement policy and monitoring frameworks to promote diversity; begin ethnic record keeping and monitoring systems, and create a workforce that can engage with people from ethnic minorities.

This means recruiting, retaining and developing a workforce that can promote diversity and who have knowledge of the needs of diverse communities. This includes employing workers with the right language skills and methods to work with groups with varying needs. It also includes using consultation methods that engage a range of communities in genuine discussions of priorities and needs. At the same time, it includes the provision of information that is clear and timely, and targeting word-of-mouth networks – which continue to be the principle source of information for black and minority ethnic communities.

But a diverse front line workforce needs resources and managers who are knowledgeable about diversity and who are competent supervisors. People who can communicate effectively, use their knowledge and demonstrate flexibility in their approach. The Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) is helping to develop effective, well-rounded social care managers with two programmes: a career development programme for black and minority ethnic managers in social services and a leadership programme for senior social care managers.

With an increasing focus on diversity, social services needs to be cautious of assuming that only black and minority ethnic workers can provide effective support to black and minority ethnic communities. Service providers also need to be cautious of promoting (or not promoting) black and minority ethnic workers because of their perceived cultural expertise and not on their professional merit.

SCIE is beginning a programme of work on race equality. It has launched three discussion papers on which this article draws, written by experts in the field: Jabeer Butt, Deputy Director of the REU; Bharti Patel, Head of Policy at the Refugee Council; and Dr Ossie Stuart, a diversity consultant. SCIE is asking people to comment on the papers, which cover promoting diversity within organisations, meeting the social care needs of refugees and asylum seekers and independent living for black and ethnic minority people. You can download the discussion papers at www.scie.org.uk/publications/participation.asp.

For more information about how to contribute to the discussion papers, e-mail tanya.simpson@scie.org.uk or call 020-7089 6840

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