On Friday, I went on the first of three tours of Sutton's Adult Social Services. All councillors know about waste collection, the state of our roads and policing because these are visible services that affect everyone on a day to day basis. Support for the disabled, the elderly and for carers is a vital component of the council and the biggest area of spending with 38% of our council tax going towards funding this. However, unless you use the services, have relatives or friends that use the service or volunteer yourself, it is too easy to allow this area to pass you by. So when the opportunity came to find out more, I jumped at it.
First port of call was the same first contact that residents would have, the part of the call centre that specialises in care matters. I recall almighty problems when the new 'Paris' database was implemented which records clients' details but it seems to be working really well now with full details being shared across the service. This saves an inordinate amount of time only having to ask questions once. There is nothing so demoralising as being passed from pillar to post and having to start your story yet again to another voice on the line. Some 80% of queries are resolved at this stage. The Council works well with voluntary organisations who provide a whole host of services. Often it is just a matter of explaining what is available and where they can find the right people.
Literally next to this area of first contact sits the Access Team, made up of social workers and care managers. They have the expertise to resolve the more complicated issues and direct the teams out in the field. I was impressed to see the enthusiasm of the team. I could see two main reasons for this. Firstly they felt able to make decisions and resolve issues quickly. Secondly, they were being trained up towards being fully fledged social workers giving them a goal and a deserved sense of acheivment as they progressed in gaining new skills. There were many years of collective council service in the team. It's good to see the pride in showing me the ropes.
Next stage was a trip to the Cheam Priory Centre behind Cheam Baths (!Issue alert!). Two teams of social workers serve the Borough. Cheam is home to the West Team. I spent an hour getting to grips with the way that the teams work with the added complication of safeguarding. Finally I accompanied Helen, a Care Manager on a visit to a couple's home. Having suffered a stroke eight years ago, the husband was partially paralysed and found speaking difficult. His wife was his full-time carer. They had just returned from a few days' holiday and it was clear that this was very welcome respite from the hard work involved in simply living their lives.
Helen had seen the family before and reviewed their situation to see what more support could be offered. She had already pointed them towards the Sutton Carers Centre, an essential organisation for any local carer and discussed financial support as well as alterations to the home to make it easier to continue living independently. Small things to help make it easier getting in and out of the bath make a massive difference to the quality of life. These were proud people who were coping under difficult circumstances. Within my short visit, I could see how tiring it was for them but also how they had kept a great sense of humour.
I'm looking forward to the next visits, today and Thursday. Following that, we will be able to tackle the issues far more knowledgeably when developing policy on how to change the future of Sutton.