First Contact Schemes – Interim Report

Brian Wilson, Research Director of Alliance Member Rural Services Network writes:

The Elderly Accommodation Council (EAC) has released an interim report from work it has undertaken to map the location of First Contact schemes and to examine how they operate. It is compiling a directory of First Contact schemes and hopes to do some further work on good practice.

It has done this as a member of the Age Action Alliance, a grouping which is facilitated by the Department for Work and Pensions, and which counts the Rural Services Network among its members.

The aim is to promote the local development of First Contact schemes, both by encouraging new ones to form where they don’t exist and by encouraging more organisations to join those schemes which do exist.

EAC’s report follows an initial examination of thirty-two schemes spread across England (and in one case in Scotland). It defines First Contact schemes as collaborative schemes in which local service providers’ work together to identify vulnerable people, so they can ensure those individuals are connected with the services that they need.

Two types of schemes are identified. Some fit a model called “agency based referral schemes”, where existing local service providers work together. Typically, when a frontline member of staff from one provider comes into contact with a vulnerable client not previously known to them they will, with that person’s permission, gather and log information about them using a short form or checklist. That information can then be used for referrals to other service providers within the scheme.

Another model is called “agent based referral schemes”, which depend upon a network of community of village agents who are working locally to identify needy or vulnerable individuals and who use their knowledge to link them up with appropriate support and services. As readers may be aware, a number of Rural Community Councils oversee or deliver such a scheme.

Interestingly, there is a concentration of agency-based schemes in the East Midlands and East Anglia, perhaps building on the pioneering work of Nottinghamshire First Contact, while there is a concentration of agent-based schemes in the South West and West Midlands, which appear to have spread from the well known work in Gloucestershire.

There is a great deal of variation in the size and composition of scheme partnerships. Lead organisations include local authorities (mainly upper tier), Fire and Rescue Authorities, Rural Community Councils and Age UK. The number of partner organisations ranges from five up to sixty and there is a differing mix of statutory and voluntary sector representation in different areas.

Target groups for these schemes can also be quite variable. Older people, disabled people and isolated people are the most frequently cited, with many clients falling into more than one of those categories. There are schemes which nominally offer a service to all vulnerable adults, though in practice most of their clients tend to be older people.

In most cases the schemes seek to manage ‘lower level’ issues and the focus is on referring clients to early prevention services which help them to remain living safely and independently at home. Where more acute issues are identified they will have procedures for referring clients on to health or social care authorities.

For clients, there are obvious benefits where help is badly needed, but there are also gains from having a streamlined process. Information about them is only gathered once by the agent or first contact agency and they should benefit from a clearer picture of what services are available locally.

The most frequent topics for referrals are healthcare, wellbeing activities, home security and safety, benefits advice, housing advice, home improvement services and community transport.

Unsurprisingly, an important consideration for those managing first contact schemes is their publicity and promotion. That said, the EAC report finds that schemes are growing in terms of their client base and with more partner organisations coming on board.

Tantalisingly, the report says that some schemes are making real strides to analyse the benefits they deliver. This is likely to be something that others would wish to share. The evidence seems to show that schemes can point to growing numbers of clients and referrals. What they also need to do, in cash strapped times, is to demonstrate effective outcomes from those interventions.

If anyone reading this article knows of schemes that are not listed in the EAC report (see the list and map at the back of the document), then do let me know and I’ll happily pass on that information.

This article was written by Brian Wilson whose consultancy, Brian Wilson Associates, can be contacted at brian@brianwilsonassociates.co.uk

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