Failure to tackle social exclusion could see services contracted out

Council services that fail at-risk children or excluded adults could be contracted out to other providers, according to social exclusion minister Hilary Armstrong.

At the launch of the government’s long-awaited social exclusion action plan this week, Armstrong said underperformance would be dealt with in a “sensitive” way, but services that persistently failed would be contracted out or other authorities
could be brought in to help them improve.

Under the plan, there will be a “clear ladder of intervention” for underperforming providers with the intention of “building capability at the local level”. But good statutory services will be left alone.

The plan builds on prime minister Tony Blair’s speech last week, which outlined his intention to use health visitors and children’s centre workers to intervene earlier with children from “dysfunctional” families.

Children’s minister Beverley Hughes also told the launch: “It is not sufficient to just improve services for most people. Tackling social inequality must be part of the core business of services.”

More details of the proposals are expected in the forthcoming local government white paper.

The exclusion action plan also states that the green paper on looked-after children, expected next month, will feature measures to swiftly identify and address failure by authorities. The document will “address the causes of underperformance and opportunities for success” at every level, from staff – including social workers – to organisations.

However, the Department for Education and Skills refused to confirm ahead of the green paper’s publication whether this meant the performance of individuals would be put under greater scrutiny.

Ray Jones, chair of the British Association of Social Workers, warned that the government should not become too punitive in the light of Ofsted’s takeover of inspection and regulation of children’s services next year, and the merger of the Commission for Social Care Inspection with the Healthcare Commission to oversee adults’ services from 2008.

“The CSCI and, before it, the Social Services Inspectorate, have helped providers improve their performance in a positive
way,” he said. “There is a risk we could lose this as Ofsted and the Healthcare Commission have a record as hit-and-run

Action plan measures
● Ten pilot parenting projects for at-risk children from pre-birth until children turn two.
● Strengthen local area agreements.
● Pilots to test different approaches to mental health and conduct disorders in childhood, including treatment foster care.
● Explore extension of service delivery through budget-holding lead professionals.

Further information
Social Exclusion Action Plan

  • Interview with Hilary Armstrong

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