Almost all children’s social services functions could be delegated to other organisations under proposals published by the government.
In a consultation, the Department for Education (DfE) asked whether councils should be permitted to hand all children’s social services roles to third parties, such as local authority arms-length bodies or existing private organisations.
But councils will not be able to delegate independent reviewing officer functions and can only hand adoption agency functions to a registered adoption society, according to the paper published on Thursday. Councils also cannot give powers of delegation to another organisation.
The consultation paper, “Powers to delegate children’s social care functions”, stated the plans would allow councils “to harness third party expertise, and/or set up more agile delivery structures outside traditional hierarchies”.
It stated councils would still be responsible for meeting their statutory obligations even if they delegated their services. Delegated services would be considered by Ofsted through its single inspection framework and the council would be held to account for them. The delegated functions would have to be carried out under the supervision of registered social workers.
A paper on the Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme, published at the same time, said autonomous organisations set up by councils could have a “stronger purity of purpose” and greater scope to innovate because their leaders would not be dealing with the competing priories and budgets, bigger bureaucracy and restrictions of the council.
The organisations could also have a sharper focus on the end user, generate greater staff enthusiasm, make savings and get access to other sources of funding, it said.
The new regulations, if implemented, would extend the range of functions that can be delegated under the Children and Young Persons Act 2008. Part 1 of the Act came into effect in November 2013 and allowed councils to delegate social services functions for looked after children and care leavers.
The consultation closes on 30 May and the results will be published on the DfE’s website in the summer.
Meanwhile, the paper on the Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme revealed the programme could help councils pay for the upfront costs of setting up new, autonomous organisations to carry out children’s social services work or other new approaches to social work such as redesigning systems and introducing new ways of working with families.
The two-year scheme aims to work with 20 or more councils and will get £30m in its first year and “substantially more in the second”. The programme could fund functions such as hiring a consultancy to write an implementation plan, support discussions with council finance and human resources departments, pay for staff training and extra management time or monitoring the progress of cases during the transition.
The DfE expects to appoint a delivery partner for the programme in May, the report stated, and will then provide more information on the scheme. In the meantime authorities can register their interest in the programme by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Helga Pile, national officer for social care at trade union Unison, said: “We are very concerned that the government is pressing ahead with its drive to fragment and privatise the whole spectrum of statutory social work. The prospect of companies like Serco running child protection is one that will fill social workers with fear for the children and families they work with. This is just a smokescreen for the government’s continuing failure to address chronic underfunding which has left local authority social work over-stretched and under intolerable pressure. To cut local authority budgets by 40% at a time when need for social work support is soaring, and then claim councils are not fit to run the services is staggering. Everything we know about serious cases tells us that we need more joined-up working and close accountability – not fragmentation and dilution of oversight.”
A spokeswoman for the DfE said the consultation asked whether or not services should be outsourced at all and covered both delegation to existing and new organisations. She added the responses to the consultation would influence whether department made a change.