Children’s services bosses have warned ministers not to let councils outsource child protection functions to for-profit companies.
In its response to the consultation on the Department for Education’s plans to allow councils to farm out child protection and other social work functions to external organisations, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) says these services “should not be predicated on a profit motive”.
“Decisions taken about a child’s life should only ever be based on what is in the best interests of the child as assessed by skilled and qualified social workers and the court system,” says the ADCS response.
“These decisions cannot, and must not, be subordinate to the pursuit of financial profit. There is a serious risk of perverse financial incentives (direct or indirect) that could potentially distort decisions in individual care cases, for example, to intervene or not, to take a child into care or not.”
Instead the ADCS says the government’s plans should only allow child protection work to be delegated to not-for-profit organisations, including other local authorities.
It says that while a “very small number of local authorities” have requested the ability to outsource social care functions, they are doing so “in the spirit of localism” and intend for the democratic accountability to remain with councils.
The ADCS response adds that local authorities should not be able to delegate their duty of care to children and questions how child protection inspections could work in a system where councils commission rather than provide these services.
“The very serious potential for these proposals to distort the position of a single local point of accountability for children and young people is best exemplified by the idea that a provider would be inspected by Ofsted and then the local authority ‘awarded’ the judgment,” it says.
“This situation is untenable as it would require the local authority to employ an army of ‘checkers’ to ensure contract compliance.”
It adds that the effects of creating a market in social care can be seen in children’s homes, where placements have ended up unevenly distributed across the country resulting in children being placed at significant distances from their home authorities.
The response also urges the government to conduct further consultations should it decide to pursue its plans due to the risk of unintended consequences.
The ADCS response to the proposals follows criticisms of the plans from many sector bodies including Unison, the College of Social Work, the British Association of Social Workers and social work academics.