A further nine independent GP-style social work practices for children in care will be piloted in England this year despite opposition from unions.
The announcement from the Department for Education brings the total number of pilot sites up to 14. Six pilot projects were launched by the Labour government in 2009, but one was cancelled after Sandwell Council withdrew its involvement.
Organisations including Unison and the Social Work Action Network have campaigned against the programme since its launch in 2008, claiming the creation of independent practices could lead to the privatisation of social work.
But the DfE, headed by Conservative education secretary Michael Gove, announced it was expanding the programme last year as part of the coalition government’s Big Society agenda.
The DfE will award a grant of £100,000 to each of the new pilots, due to start later this year. Bristol, South Tyneside and Wakefield will run one pilot each, North Tyneside will run one in partnership with Northumberland and Warwickshire will run one in partnership with Coventry. Lincolnshire and Peterborough councils will run two pilots each.
The five pilots already running are in Kent, Liverpool, Hillingdon, Staffordshire and Blackburn with Darwen. An independent evaluation of their progress is being carried out.
Unison has set out 10 reasons it opposes GP-style practices for children in care, such as the risk they will create more bureaucracy and become a drain on councils’ resources.
Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social work, criticised the DfE for expanding the programme without waiting for the results of an evaluation into the first five pilots.
But the DfE said the pilots had shown “some very positive benefits” for looked-after children.
Health secretary Andrew Lansley announced in November that social work practices will be piloted in adult services from 2011.
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