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How can troubled social care organisations learn from failure?

Posted on 28/09/2016 by Aminul Hoque


While bad practice should always be addressed, creating a blame-free culture can help to protect against future mistakes

When I was 10 years old, the head teacher didn’t turn up to school one day and never returned. At the time I wondered why, but found out some time later that she had been asked to leave – the school was doing badly. Organisations in the public sector have always failed, but awareness of the problem seems to be greater today than it was then. 

There is widespread concern about failure in social care and funding cuts and staff shortages are increasing the risks. Some 506 providers are inadequate and 3,983 require improvement, according to the Care Quality Commission’s 2015-16 annual report.

One common reason why failure affects social care organisations is not having a strong and consistent leadership team in place. Poor approaches to safeguarding, ineffective management of money and resources, and an inability to ensure that staff adopt the right values and behaviours are also factors. Usually, it is a combination of these factors.

A report by the Institute for Government provides a useful guide to understanding the nature of failure and how to help organisations return to health. Failing Well (pdf) looks at four examples where service providers have dramatically improved, including two in social care.

While there are always examples of individuals who make mistakes, the report finds that adopting a culture of blame won’t help. When care providers have received a bad inspection report, for example, initially staff are often in a state of shock or denial. While perpetrators of serious failure need to be managed out, blaming all the staff will most likely make the situation worse. Creating an open, blame-free culture within organisations helps to protect against future risks of failure.

Failure is often a consequence of an organisation that has existed with problems for years, the report also finds. One of the case studies examined, the now improving Doncaster council, had been in an almost perpetual state of difficulty for over a decade. In cases like this, it is vital not to jump to conclusions about what the causes or the remedies could be. We urge organisations in difficulty to delve deeply into their policies, practice and culture. We also often use a systems approach to analyse what has gone wrong. We see such an approach as having the potential to help organisations that are in broader difficulty.

Failing organisations are often insular, the report finds. They have weak networks and fail to reach out to peers when they need support. In local government, for example, social care departments that are failing or need support can reach out to peers who will review and help them with their performance. This kind of approach could be rolled out more widely across the sector.

Where does this leave us? This research helps but is no substitute for the provision of dedicated support to struggling organisations. When hospitals fail, a team of experts turn up to help, funded by the government. This is not the case in social care where providers are largely left to sink or swim when they are in trouble. We need solid investment in support to help troubled social care organisations turn the corner. Otherwise, more will fail and the consequences will be terrible for those who use these services.



Source: The Guardian