The local rag in my area today carried a story about how the day centres in the district are under threat due to budget cuts. It's made the front page, but to anyone anywhere near the world of social care it's not news at all.
Day care has long been considered to be the weakest gazelle among local authourities portfolio of services. Caught in a pincer movement between cost-conscious authourities who regard day care as an unecessary luxury on one hand and by modernisers who see it as hopelessley out of date the real surprise is how long it's managed to survive.
It could well be that attacking services out in the open is difficult at the best of times as the local rags dedication of their front page testifies, but I distinctly remember talk years ago of a more subtle approach using individual budgets as a way of phasing out day care. The arguement was that people would prefer to buy a football season ticket or do something, anything, other than a jigsaw with missing pieces and a sing-a-long in a church hall. The logic dictated that in the face of greater choice day centres just wouldn't cut it.
Another important argument is that day care is just not inclusive. Social care has a progressive element to it and day care has just got too much of a segregationalist whiff about it. Why should a person not enjoy the kind of leisure activities the rest of us enjoy, football, nights out with friends, watching a gig, just because they have a disability, and hasn't the DDA made all these things more accesable anyway?
There are however, problems with this view. The first being that a lot of people actually like day care. Most centres had a waiting list for spaces and a fair number of people once they had started enjoyed it so much they then asked for a second or third day. This was perfectly understandable as for a lot of people, particularly older people, day centre represented a vital link to the world outside their living rooms. As care managers our day centres also proved invaluable. Their staff could build good relationships with service users meaning they could detect a change in someone which might indicate something was wrong.
Second there is the issue of costs. A football season ticket can cost a lot. Day care on the other hand is cheap. In my area we had a block contract with a voluntary organisation. Most of the premises were also purpose built common rooms at council owned warden assisted accomodation so overheads were low. There may well be better alternatives, but there aren't cheaper ones.
It almost seems like another age, but around four years ago we even offered the service for free and had given days away without any kind of real assessment. Those days are long gone and unlikely to ever return, but I wonder will it be the same for day care?