On being a boundroid

by Jill Manthorpe

Boundroid? Why haven’t I heard this term before? Listening to the speakers at the Transforming Adult Social Care Workforce Conference yesterday, this word featured prominently. It was used to describe people whose working lives have spanned social and health care and continue to think about the connections. They may be the future.

Researchers too can be boundroids and that’s what we need to be when thinking about evidence and practice; about policy and implementation; social care and social work; home care and care homes. We need to know a bit about each and a lot about some of these subjects.

The Adult Social Care Workforce Conference is an annual event where the spotlight is not on social care funding or reorganisation alone but on the workforce (1.68 million people according to Skills for Care). This year three themes stood out. There was the confirmation that ‘Leadership’ in social care has been a problem and is now the solution. The L word is used rather than management to emphasise that leadership is everybody’s business. When did this happen and what does it mean? For me this change was captured visually by Debbie Sorkin from the National Skills Academy. She has collected several photos of the social care workforce and remarked on how often the pictures portray staff sitting down and not looking directly to camera. We’ll certainly keep a lookout for such images in our own presentations to see if there are subliminal threads of invisibility.

A second theme that can usually dampen the spirit of any conference was that of integration. How right Andrea Sutcliffe of the Social Care Institute for Excellence is to say that this word can usefully be abandoned for ‘joined up’ in many instances. As researchers we don’t want to be integrated but ‘joining up’, and building mutually informed relationships seems to be the way to go.

This conference heard about the specifics of workforce investment from Glyn Mason of the Department of Health, whose experience in practice and management is always remembered by conference participants who have worked with him in far flung places over the years. With all the media coverage of complexities of the social care funding reforms it is easy to see the Care and Support White Paper as an empty vessel. But there is 60 years’ worth of reform in it and a separate chapter on the workforce is only one place where the workforce features. After all, social care is a ‘doing’ word not an object, as my classroom teachers might have said. Two groups are mentioned in particular – apprentices and care ambassadors. But under every proposal are workforce implications. Who, for example, will work in the expanded housing with care services? Who will carry out the promised carers’ assessments for all? And why was migrant working not really addressed?

Being a boundroid is a characteristic of social care work of any type and style. Maybe the challenge will be to ensure that other sectors see this as a useful attribute too.

Professor Jill Manthorpe is Director of the Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King’s College London.