At the beginning of April 2020, North West ADASS network leads in the 23 member councils began discussing the possible mental health and wellbeing impacts of COVID-19, not just on the adult social care workforce in the council, but on those working for care providers and unpaid carers who may also be in employment.
Lia Chelminiak, a North West ADASS Programme Manager, set up a regional working group to explore what could be done to support workforce wellbeing and mental health across these three groups.
Members of the working group grew to include an ADASS Associate (a former DASS and North West Local Authority Chief Executive), the Chair of the North West PSW Network, Chair of the North West Carers Network, the Skills for Care lead for Workforce Wellbeing, the NHSE & I Regional Head for Staff Experience, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Lancaster, and two colleagues attached to the DHSC Office of the Chief Social Worker.
The working group recognised that there was a lot of material and support offers from a range of sources either already available, or in development, but it was not all in one place and there was no easy way for people to navigate their way around the wide range of content on offer, or any guidance on how to match offers to individual needs for support which may vary considerably.
The group also recognised that if individuals were already struggling to stay afloat mentally, then they may not have the capacity to actively search for sources of help and advice .
It was very helpful that the working group had access to academic support from one of the region’s Universities who helped with insights and secondary research on the mental health and wellbeing needs of different workforce groups in the context of COVID-19, and another University who generously shared learning from their research with unpaid carers.
The working group agreed to focus on:
- identifying a range of mental health and wellbeing offers for social workers, the care provider workforce, and unpaid carers
- a methodology to help people navigate and best deploy these offers based on a) three levels of need and b) a set of wellbeing categories
- resources which could offer both a quick reference, and more in-depth guides to offers
- resources which could be added to at local level.
North West ADASS approach to navigating the wellbeing offers
North West ADASS took what is effectively a triaging approach to helping people navigate their way through a plethora of mental health and wellbeing support offers, advice and information based on three levels of need:
- Level one: Self-help resources people can access themselves whenever convenient.
- Level two: ‘Someone to talk to’ offering direct access to volunteers or professionals who can talk to people as and when needed.
- Level three: ‘Someone there for you’ meaning support over a longer period of time, best accessed via the person’s GP or other health professional, or referral to a specialist service.
The North West ADASS approach also sets out some broad categories of need which can be met through individual offers (see sample below):
- general wellbeing,
- healthy living
- stress and anxiety
- low mood,
- grief and bereavement,
- trauma and PTSD
and highlights who is eligible to take up the offer eg those in paid employment in the care sector, whether it is a universal offer open to all, and whether the offer is national, regional or sub-regional. Word versions of the products are also provided allowing for the local adaptation or the addition of very local offers, which a number of councils in the region have used.
Not all of the offers in the directories are COVID-specific however all are relevant to supporting mental health and wellbeing during this particularly stressful and challenging time.
North West ADASS toolkit and directories
Two two-page ‘Practical Toolkits’ summarising key sources of advice and support on a range of topics which act as a quick guide:
Wellbeing and mental health for carers, aimed at people who have caring responsibilities, and for managers who have members of staff who have caring responsibilities and managing workforce wellbeing and mental health, aimed at managers working in any adult social care setting.
More in-depth directories of support offers for three groups:
- A directory of wellbeing and mental health offers for adult social care staff - aimed at adult social care staff working in any adult social care setting
- A directory of wellbeing and mental health offers for adult social work staff, aimed at social workers
- A directory of wellbeing and mental health offers for unpaid carers
Each directory is provided in pdf and word format-the word format allows more local offers to added in.
One of the main challenges was that the working group had no clear brief at the outset as the need for something emerged during other discussions about managing and mitigating the impacts of COVID-19; as the brief evolved, it became clear that other partners with particular expertise eg in working with unpaid carers should be involved in the development of any products. Another challenge was the need to develop something at pace which meant that there wasn’t time to quality assure or peer review any of the resources, other than by asking for feedback from people using the resources once the Directories were published. Keeping the directories updated also poses a challenge as new material is always being published, though the Programme Office had undertaken at least one review and refresh since their initial publication.
Some of the early learning from this collaboration highlighted some gaps for future consideration:
- Specific support and resources tailored for the BAME community
- Specific support and resources for those struggling with financial anxieties, such as carers or frontline provider staff on zero-hour contracts
- How people can access non web-based support
- The suitability of support where the need is in reality for specialist advice so for example, if a person is very worried about their financial or job situation does the offer of a mindfulness App really help?
- Reducing the barriers to accessing support where there are set eligibility criteria -some offers for example are targeted at those in employment, so unpaid carers may not be able to access these.
Based on the North West ADASS experience, here are some of their top tips for other regions or councils looking to do similar work:
- Don’t duplicate: if these resources are helpful please use them and adapt them for your purposes!
- Not specific to this area of work, but identifying a problem and drawing together a group of relevant people to share perspectives and discuss what you’re learning helps create a clear scope that is focused on what will add value
- Focus on the need: in the North West focus was on supporting employers and employees to navigate a bewildering range of offers and information. This meant creating resources that gave employers an overview and linked key sources of tools and further information. For the workforce it meant finding a way of presenting the offers so that they could quickly find something that might work for them personally through the levels and categories of mental health and wellbeing need
- Given the size and breadth of the workforce, consider how resources might be used and develop them so they can work in a range of ways. The directories include hyperlinks but also full web addresses in case they are distributed in paper form. They are provided in pdf as ready-to-go for areas and providers who don’t have the capacity to tailor them further, and Word.
North West ADASS Programme Manager