Good Help Brokers

What is a Support Broker?

The role of Support Broker is a key element of individualised funding systems.  This means that individual funding systems are incomplete without including the option of involving an independent Support Brokers. Equally, it means that the involvement of a Support Broker becomes effective when accompanied by systemic change in the structures, procedures, and culture of the social care system as a whole.  The involvement of an independent Support Broker can help to identify where these changes need to be made and how to individualise that systems and structures that are in place.

Support Brokers provide a skilled, technical service that is distinct from the role of Advocate. Like many professions within social care, the Broker’s work may sometimes include elements of advocacy – for example, reminding people in meetings to pay attention to the views of the person who the meeting is for. Brokers are mainly providing technical assistance to help people identify and achieve changes they require in their lives and should be working in a system that recognises and values this input.

At best Support Brokers should be fully independent, with no conflicts of interest. This means more than not working for social services or social care providers. Brokers also need to be free of loyalties to the professionalised social care and health system, and fundamentally be in alliance with people who use services, their families and allies, and with the wider community.

People who need a Broker should not be discouraged from using one and should be able to choose their Broker. This means that there is a need for government (probably through local councils) to invest in the development of independent Brokers so that there is not an undue financial disincentive to use a Broker, and so that there are enough Brokers to provide a real choice.

Support Brokers are accountable to the people they work for, providing assistance as each person requires, and on the basis each person requires, from the range of services that falls within the scope of what a Support Broker can do.

Support Brokers have no statutory authority to make decisions, they have no right to determine or veto a plan or an element of a plan, or to talk to other people (e.g. care managers, support workers) to get or share information about the person they are working for, without the consent of the person (or, where necessary, the consent of the family on their behalf).

This also implies that the social care and health system cannot impose a requirement on Brokers to report back to other professionals, such as care managers.

The scope of the Broker’s input includes helping people to identify the changes they want to make to improve their lives; find support services and community opportunities that the person requires; negotiate with providers and prepare community resources as necessary; cost and write a support plan; identify and obtain funding (including securing agreement on social services and health funding) and initiate implementation of the plan.

The role of the Support Broker does not extend beyond the implementation of the plan. Some people will need continuing help with financial administration, or with monitoring and managing their supports, but these are different roles and are best kept separate from the Support Brokers input. There are a number of reasons. Firstly, it helps to define the Support Brokerage input clearly, with a definite start and finish point. (People should, of course, be free to enter into a fresh contract with the Broker later on, if they wish.) Secondly, the different areas of Brokerage are likely to require different ‘skill mixes’. Thirdly, there are potential conflicts of interest if the roles are combined in one person (and possibly even in one agency). And finally, there is the practical problem that if Brokers stay involved indefinitely; Broker resources will rapidly be used up.

At Imagineer we do offer support to people who are looking for ongoing help and information about this can be found under the section titled ‘Ongoing Management Support’.  This service was developed to respond to increasing number of requests we were receiving, this role is fulfilled by a team member with the necessary skill set and someone other than the team member who has provided the Support Brokerage to make sure there is separation between the two types of input and support.

Support Brokers are offering a professional service, in the sense that they should be operating within a context of regulation that ensures minimum competencies, accountability to each customer; and safeguards. The challenge for the development of Support Broker resources is to make sure that Brokers don’t become ‘professionals’ in the negative sense of remote, bureaucratic, and unaccountable to the people they supposedly serve.

National policy needs to address the danger of Support Brokers becoming ‘professionalised’ in a negative sense, by giving responsibility for the support and regulation of local Brokers to disabled people, family members, and their community allies. The National Brokerage Network provides basic oversight and regulation, plus services such as signposting for professional insurance, training and mentoring, and these are undoubtedly valuable.