I was reading the Residential Care Association’s 1980 publication Staffing Ratios in Residential Establishments and was reminded of the truism that:If you divide resident need by staff availability you can arrive at the number of staff required.

The challenge being to quantify both the numerator and denominator. I then embarked on a personal mind search to list the items of resident need and staff availability required to complete the calculation. It is extensive with some items measureable and other less so. There is little value in me sharing the list as it will vary from home to home. It is also an exercise that should be undertaken with residents and staff together. Checklists are useful but no substitute for participation and ownership in something so important. Staff sufficiency is the foundation stone of residential care with their capability, skills and confidence making up all the building blocks.

What this brought home to me is that a rota is a lot more than ensuring sufficient cover by documenting who is on and off duty. A rota is in fact a workforce plan or even a strategy! Think about it.

Let Me Know

Whatever your question the answer is the workforce. A turn of phrase oft used by the former Chief Executive of the, already lamented, Children’s Workforce Development Council gives rise to a few questions of my own.

Question: How will a 25% saving be made on social care budgets that are 80% spent on workforce costs?

Question: When policymakers say we must focus on early intervention and prevention what do they actually mean in practice?

Question: Do personalised services imply a personalised workforce?

Question: Is safeguarding becoming ‘job creation’?

Question: Why is what should be safest service (residential care) the most regulated and that which poses most potentially harmful risks (privately employed personal care arrangements)the least regulated?

Question: Should compliance inspectors at CQC and their opposite numbers at OFSTED rejoin the social care workforce?

Question: What is going on with the College of Social Work?

Any questions? There remain plenty of organisations to address them – too many some say – but sadly not one with a specific set of answers around integrated children’s services.

One thing that is certain is that, thanks to the National Minimum Dataset, we now know more about the social care workforce than ever before. Surely it is time to start using that data to start answering a few questions and stop the often devastating swings of the pendulum that see workforce initiatives follow scandals and crises – only to wither away during times of ‘other’ priorities.

The social care workforce has enough inbuilt dichotomies and paradoxes of its own – paid/unpaid, regulated/unregulated, professional/vocational, relationship/task, adults/children even life and death – to have to deal with the us and them of politics. The sooner policy makers really permit a sector-led approach to answering the workforce questions the sooner we will all secure improved benefit from the 2 million plus people working to care and support adults and children in the UK.