All English and Welsh councils will be able to contract out social work services for looked-after children to GP-style practices under legislation announced yesterday.
The Children and Young Persons Bill would enable several councils to pilot such practices and includes powers for the government to provide all councils with this power at a future date.
The legislation specifies that practices should be run or supervised by registered social workers and, should the scheme be rolled out, practices will fall under Ofsted’s regulatory remit.
Practices will be able to take on any local authority looked-after children’s function apart from adoption services or the independent reviewing officer role, on the basis that IROs will play a role in monitoring practices.
The bill would also ensure that councils retain corporate parenting responsibility for children looked after by practices.
Junior children’s minister Kevin Brennan said that the government had a “moral obligation” to trial practices – the brainchild of former Downing Street policy adviser Julian Le Grand – given the current poor outcomes for many looked-after children.
The bill, which legislates for elements of the Care Matters white paper, would also:
- Prevent councils from placing children out of authority unless appropriate provision is not available locally.
- Allow children to stay in foster or residential care until age 18, not 16 as at present, should they wish.
- Prevent councils from moving children without a statutory review of their care.
- Ensure councils place children near their school unless this is not reasonably practicable, and, if they are in their GCSE years, to only not do so in exceptional circumstances.
- Empower IROs to monitor councils’ performance of their functions in relation to looked-after children – not just in relation to care reviews, as at present.
- Allow the government to set up a national IRO agency independent of councils.
- Require councils to pay care leavers at university a £2,000 bursary.
- Toughen Ofsted’s regulatory powers in relation to children’s homes, fostering and adoption agencies, and residential family centres.
Care Matters white paper