The College of Social Work has called on the government to halt its plans to allow councils to outsource children’s social care until the “very serious implications” of the policy are fully examined.
The college’s response to the Department for Education (DfE) consultation on the plan, which could see for-profit companies put in charge of child protection, says its membership was concerned the policy would introduce “a profit motive into the provision of children’s services”.
“There are real dangers from the introduction of profit-making to the provision of children’s services; raising questions about how risk will be managed if profit-making is introduced and the potential for conflicts of interest in the provision of children’s services,” the response says.
“This represents a major shift in public policy which could have a profound and potentially very negative impact on the lives of children and on the social care sector generally. The College of Social Work strongly believes that the interests of children would not be served within such a model.”
The college added that the seriousness of the proposal means it needs more debate and evidence than the consultation period allowed. The college called for “an immediate pause in order that there can be due and full consideration of the very serious implications of these proposed regulatory changes”.
The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) response to the consultation said that outsourcing child protection to the private sector was “a serious safeguarding concern”.
“This also flies in the face of recent scandals of ‘for profit’ companies being found wanting in their delivery of public services,” said BASW.
The children’s charity coalition Children England has also attacked the government’s plans in its consultation response and called for the plans to be halted until there is more evidence that the move will improve the lives of children.
“There is simply no convincing case offered for why the extended freedom to delegate should be made available to all authorities (regardless of how few currently say they intend to use it), or why it should be made available at all in haste,” says Children England in its response.
Children England also called on the DfE to ensure that for-profit companies are banned from carrying out Section 47 child protection investigations and introduce more safeguards if it goes ahead with the plan.
“Assurances from the minister and from department officials during the consultation period, stating that there are no such intentions to outsource child protection functions to any major contracting firms, are very welcome,” its response says.
“Not one safeguard is proposed, however, that could prevent it from becoming an option once councils are free to outsource.”
The College of Social Work response also questioned the lack of safeguards on who councils would be able to outsource to.
“Though the children’s minister emphasised in a recent speech at the Community Care Live conference that there is no intention to introduce a profit motive, the fact is that the proposed regulations offer no protection from, as he stated, the prospect of local authorities ‘turning children’s services over whole scale to large companies with no expertise in this area’.”
A spokeswoman for the DfE said: “We want to improve the quality and efficiency of children’s social care. Some councils are already using external expertise to improve their work, while others have asked us to extend these freedoms so that they can look at new, improved ways of delivering services.
“There will be no obligation for councils to take up these freedoms and any that do will still be held accountable by Ofsted. We will take into account all responses to the consultation before setting out next steps.”
She added that councils would be able to outsource services to charities and mutuals as well as private companies under the proposals.