Community Care carried an article a couple of days ago about Paul Burstow and the College of Social Work potentially turning their attention to the current training of Best Interests Assessors and finding the paucity of the system as it exists now to be in need of reform.
I’m a Best Interests Assessor as well as an AMHP (Approved Mental Health Professional). There’s a general awareness within the sector about what being an AMHP may be – there’s a lot less understanding about what is involved in being a Best Interests Assessor. The role itself is much newer having developed from the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards which were a tacked onto the Mental Capacity Act (2005) by the Mental Health Act (1983) as amended 2007.
Lots of dates and lots of legislation but the role came into being in 2008 and created this role of ‘Best Interests Assessors’ who could be nurses, social workers, psychologists or occupational therapists with a couple of years experience who would be trained specifically to carry out particular assessments under these new legislative frameworks and make recommendations on the basis of these assessments as to whether someone who lacks capacity is being a) deprived of their liberty in a hospital or care home and b) whether it is in their best interests.
It can get enormously complicated but that’s perhaps, the reason that the focus has turned to the training of BIAs.
I was an ‘inaugural’ BIA, meaning that my training took place before the legislation had actually ‘gone live’. It took place over five days at postgraduate (masters) level training delivered by a university and requiring an examined essay and presentation.
The problem is that we were then released into a ‘vacuum’ – there was an incredible feeling of insecurity about what these assessments required but there was also a hope that case law would eventually arrive to clarify! (oh, how deluded we all were!).
As it happens, case law is coming thick and fast now and each legislative decision adds layers of complexity. We have a better idea of the rate of referrals and the amount of time a good quality assessment takes so reappraising the course isn’t a bad idea.
Some AMHP courses now incorporate Best Interests Assessor training. I’m not sure I see this as necessary.
I’m not even sure more than five days is needed regarding an understanding of the legislation.
What is absolutely needed is constant and ongoing updates/training/discussions and forums to promote constant learning.
Currently there are no established and consistent regulations concerning continuous professional development of BIAs – it is up to the local authorities to themselves decide. I’m fortunate that I have access to a host of BIA update training and a chance for specific supervision related to this role. I see it as fundamentally necessary, particularly at the rate with which the legislation framework changes, to be constantly in touch with the latest developments.
I also think that it is necessary for any new BIA (something that was impossible for me when I trained for obvious reasons) to have a similar experience as AMHPs have of ‘shadowing/fronting’ assessments with a more experienced BIA alongside them to get a feel for the type of work that i is.
This feels like a neglected corner of social work and social care in that it is a role that still is predominantly taken by social workers but few apart from those who actually do it, have an understanding of what it might entail.
We need to support each other on this – especially as so few of the trainers are actually Best Interests Assessors themselves – in my experience. This is an area where peer-led learning and understanding of the role could really move into the fore front.
I revert back to my premise that everyone working in social care with adults needs a better understanding of the Mental Capacity Act. That would form a better basis for those who do go on to become Best Interests Assessors.
I’ll be interested to see if Burstow picks this up. There’s a long way to go to improve both the Deprivation of Liberties Safeguards and the way that they are assessed and implemented. It’s quite right that the training and in particular professional development of BIAs is considered alongside this.
I’d be interested in what other BIAs thought about how training both initial and ongoing could be improved. Please feel free to leave comments!
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