Understanding Social Care Policy and Law for Nvq and Svq Candidates and Assessors

When staff are just starting out on their NVQ and SVQ in Health and Social Care, or when new staff who have qualified from abroad start working in the UK they can be uncertain and confused by the different terms, such as policy, regulations, legislation, etc. NVQ and SVQ Assessors can also be uncertain of the differences.

In many ways the starting point to understanding the differences is actually Government policy.

The Government decides it wants certain things to happen in health or social care. Examples could include:

** more older people to be cared for at home, rather than in residential care

** more children, who are looked after by local authorities, to be cared for in foster care or adopted

** more adults with learning disabilities or mental health problems to be assisted into employment

Whatever the intention the Government’s aim becomes a policy. Sometimes this policy is a Green Paper or a White Paper.

The Government then has a choice as to how it pursues its policy. From the Government’s perspective it will rely on other organisations to actually apply the policy on a day to day basis. If the policy relates to health it is an NHS organisation. If the policy relates to social care it is likely to be local authorities that have to apply it or the local authority will have to make clear to organisations it contracts work to that various expectations need to be met.

The Government can get local authorities or NHS organisations to apply the policy in one of several ways. These include:

** by publishing the policy as ‘statutory guidance’. Local authorities have to follow statutory guidance issued by the Government. In England one example of this is the policy on protecting vulnerable adults titled “No Secrets”

** by offering lots of money! The Government says it will give local authorities lots of new money to be spent on certain policy initiatives. One example of this is the Sure Start and Children’s Centres initiative. When it started the policy was driven by money ** by introducing legislation that gives the local authority the power to do something or making it a duty to do something. A power means the local authority can do it if it wants to. A duty means the local authority must do it. An example of this is direct payments. The Government originally introduced direct payments as a power. But then the Government made it a duty so that local authorities must offer direct payments (since so few direct payments were offered when it was only a ‘power’)

Acts of Parliament

The Government may therefore decide to introduce legislation. This is the classic Act of Parliament.

In recent years legislation has got increasingly detailed and specific. Even with this detail, legislation can be quite cumbersome. It is also quite an involved process to introduce it. Therefore the Act of Parliament usually gives the Secretary of State (in England) or the Scottish Minister the power to make regulations and/or a code of practice.

Regulations (Also Known as Statutory Instruments)

Regulations are also called Statutory Instruments. Regulations are laid before Parliament but are not debated. They are considered law although not quite as strong as the original Act.

Regulations can be altered more quickly and are now extensively used (for example health and safety regulations).

Statutory Guidance

In addition the Secretary of State or Scottish Minister has the power to issue statutory guidance to local authorities. Local authorities are under a legal duty to follow this guidance. In other words the local authority social services or social work department must follow this ‘statutory guidance’.

Code of Practice

The Secretary of State (or Scottish Minister) could also issue a code of practice relating to an Act of Parliament. These codes do not have the full weight of law but they explain and clarify the law and offer guidance on good practice. They are often realistic and applied and can be very useful.

Good Practice Guidance

The Government department (either in England, Wales or Scotland) could also issue good practice guidance. This is not the same as statutory guidance. It is often meant to be read by social workers, first line managers (and others) since the guidance commonly gives case scenarios explaining how service users should benefit from any recent changes in the law.

One complicating factor in understanding the present legal framework in social care and children’s services is that often one Act of Parliament does not fully replace a previous Act. Commonly an Act of Parliament amends or alters an existing Act. Keeping track of this can be very difficult.

Therefore for social care staff (including staff working with children) who are NVQ or SVQ Assessors or are starting out on their Health and Social Care NVQ or SVQ some of the best resources are the law handbooks from Kirwin Maclean Associates.

These law handbooks are updated every year. They are focused and applied.

There are specific books for:

** staff who work with adults in England and Wales – called Social Care and the Law

** staff who work with children in England and Wales – called From Birth to Eighteen Years

** staff who work with adults or children in Scotland – called Social Care and the Law in Scotland

These books make clear the way laws have been amended and what new laws have been introduced. Social care staff working on their Health and Social Care NVQ or SVQ who are worried about questions from their NVQ or SVQ assessor need worry no more. If your assessor asks you about what national or European law or legislation you are working under you will find the answer in the book relevant to your area of work.

These books are equally useful for social workers or social care staff who have recently arrived in Britain from other countries. They give you an overview of social care and social work law.

Additionally one of the books (Law and the Management of Care Services) gives a synopsis of a whole range of Government policy initiatives that are shaping social care and social work services in England. If you hear a passing reference to a Government social care policy but don’t really know what it involves then this book will be able to help you.

Chris Towland

Post Author: mark

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