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EXCLUSIVE: New Skills for Care CEO Oonagh Smyth shares her vision

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Newly appointed Skills for Care CEO Oonagh Smyth, who takes up her role next month, has shared her priorities with CHP.

I first experienced social care many years ago as a volunteer at a Mencap group in Belfast. Of course, I did not call it social care, I would have described it as supporting people to live the lives they want. I still believe that social care has a unique and powerful role in doing this.

It is no accident that I am about to take up my new role as CEO of Skills for Care. This early experience and my time in Mencap has taught me that high quality care and support needs motivated people with the right values and skills. I would say that starts from seeing the people we support as individuals, in control of their own lives, where they live, who they spend time with and doing things that are important to them. It is about people who value building relationships listening, and having the skills to turn what they hear into the support that people want.

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I already see these skills and values in the Skills for Care team so I can understand why they have made such a positive contribution to making that aspiration a reality.

The team’s work supporting employers to recruit, keep and develop the right people to work in social care, including values-based recruitment, apprenticeships, the Workforce Development Fund, supporting individual employers, building registered managers’ networks and developing our leaders and managers, have made a real difference.

I want to build on the work that we have done. Social care is at a pivotal point. There has never been a greater focus on social care in my lifetime and we need to make the most of that. That means not always thinking in terms of the challenges, but also about the huge potential our sector has to change lives, and offer rewarding careers.

To make the most of this opportunity we need to be better at explaining what good social care can do in a way that the public understands and values. We need to tell the story of the quality of care that we deliver and how important it is in its contribution to the wellbeing of the whole of society. People do not understand social care, even my own family do not understand it until I talk in terms of stories and examples. If they do not understand it, they will not value it as much as they should.

So while I am not blissfully unaware of the challenges ahead, I see much that is positive. I want to play my part in making sure that Skills for Care and the sector’s 18,500 employers who employ 1.49 million people are central to the conversation about the future changes that we need to make.

That is why my first priority is to be active and get out and meet people. I want to meet as much of the sector as possible, including Skills for Care’s partners and, critically, people who use social care as their experience, is the most important of all.

So if you see me please come and share your thoughts as I’d love to hear them.

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The author Lee Peart

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