Social Care and Charity Trustees: Some things to think about

Many charities are involved in social care.  This can be challenging for Trustees, especially if they also have other roles within the charity.

In very broad terms the delivery of social care requires the care to be delivered safely and not only be appropriate for the target group but also focused on the individual service users, especially if individuals lack capacity.  In addition, it will be necessary to be aware of and work with other organisations.

The important issue for Trustees, operating as such, is to distinguish oversight/strategic issues and operational control.  Trustees should focus on oversight. Managers deal with day to day operational issues.

Maintaining boundaries has a number of advantages. Clear responsibilities and accountabilities lead to clearer decision making and communication.  Trustees, especially those personally involved in the community in other ways, need to be able to say “I don’t know” when approached outside the trustee role.  They also need to preserve independence from ordinary activities in case they need to be involved in reviews, appeals or disciplinary issues.  The more involved a Trustee is in the direct management or delivery of services the harder it is to distinguish the roles: at all times remember your hat!

The damage from things going wrong can be crippling for charities.  The most likely, and perhaps most damaging result is reputational damage.  Other consequences can be the time, effort, cost and stress of sorting out a problem.  Such remedial work may or may not be associated with regulatory review or enforcement.  Less commonly there may be financial consequences in terms of compensation and, rarely, criminal investigation and prosecution.

All of this reinforces the importance of understanding key issues and having proper systems.

I suggest that it is important for Trustees to understand the principles of, at least, the following three areas if a charity is involved in social care.  Why?  Because it will enable the Trustees to ask the right questions to satisfy themselves the charity is operating properly and to recognise when things might be starting to go wrong.

Capacity – the Mental Capacity Act 2005 Code of Practice is an accessible guide to caring for people without capacity (and a good guide for any care).  The basic concepts of empowerment and care centered on the individual are themes that run right through social care.

Safeguarding – clearly a safeguarding policy is needed and this can be an area where boundaries are particularly important. Any safeguarding issue will involve liaison with one or more other organisations. Confidentiality is critical during investigations and if the initial allegation arises due to the actions of an employee of the charity the Trustees may well have the appeal and review functions mentioned earlier.  Be aware of the local safeguarding structures and ensure your charity has a policy and a person who knows the processes and can act as the point of contact.

CQC – if your charity is delivering regulated services the charity will interact with the CQC.  The Trustees need to understand the general scheme for CQC regulation and inspection.  It should be no surprise by this point to learn that key issues for the CQC are respect, involvement and services centered on the user.  The CQC also emphasise the need for training of staff.

An oversight of these three areas,and an awareness of the proper role and duties of a Trustee, will act as solid building blocks for a safe, well run social care organisation.