Liberal Democrat and crossbench peers have raised concerns about plans to pilot GP-style practices to provide social work services to looked-after children.
In a debate on the Children and Young Persons Bill, which would introduce the pilots, peers warned that the practices may fragment local children’s services, cherry pick the easiest cases and cream off the best local practitioners, while contesting claims they would reduce bureaucracy.
The bill would enable up to nine pilots, under which councils would contract out social work support for looked-after children to practices, but retain corporate parenting accountability.
Baroness Howarth, a former director of social services and currently vice-chair of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, said: “My great anxiety is that it would be yet one more diversion and hitch, which could mean that good professional development would not happen.”
Fellow crossbencher Earl Listowel said practices may cherry pick looked-after children “leaving a Cinderella service outside the practices” and benefting some children at the expense of others. Lib Dem peer Baroness Walmsley, the party’s children’s spokesperson in the Lords, claimed this would lead to practices being able to cream off the best social workers.
She also said the plans went against the Every Child Matters agenda for children’s services, with its emphasis on integration. Meanwhile crossbencher Baroness Meacher contested claims from advocates of practices that social workers would be freed from bureacuracy, saying practices would be under the same regulatory system as local authority children’s services.
Speaking for the government, schools minister Lord Adonis (pictured) emphasised that the proposal was only to pilot social work practices and, should this prove positive, it would then be up to councils to use them or not.
He added: “The judgement of the government is that it would not be sensible to stifle even the possibility of these arrangements being piloted when they could have beneficial effects.”
The bill will be debated again on Monday (14 January).
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