Last week’s news that an accreditation system for children’s social workers is expected to be developed by private companies has sparked a torrent of concern from both inside and outside the sector.
An open letter published this week by a group of social work academics is the latest in a series of questions posed in comments, asked on social media and even tabled in Parliament surrounding the Approved Child and Family Practitioner status, which it is believed is to be developed by KPMG and Morning Lane Associates.
With two working days to go before government departments shut up shop in the lead up to the election, the Department for Education (DfE) has still not formally announced this.
The concerns from academics range from why an additional test is needed, to how it will fit into the existing system of assessment within qualifying programmes and post-qualifying structures such as the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment.
This extra testing surely goes directly against the principles which Morning Lane itself is based upon… the idea that social workers need to reclaim their sense of purpose and their sense of pride in their profession. – social worker
The academics also question why the DfE is expected to award the £2m contract to consultancy giant KPMG and Morning Lane Associates, former company of chief social worker Isabelle Trowler, rather than to The College of Social Work (TCSW).
Community Care understands TCSW put in a bid for the contract but was unsuccessful, although spokespeople at The College declined to confirm.
The open letter states: “Our professional college, The College of Social Work, has recently been established with the key role of promoting and enhancing social work standards in England.
“Why, then, is money being distributed to the private sector for the outsourcing of the accreditation of qualified social workers whilst simultaneously essential public services, which seek to serve local communities and safeguard children, are being cut at an alarming rate?”
Questions in Parliament
However, academics are not the only ones voicing concerns. Their open letter follows Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck tabling a series of questions in Parliament asking how many bids the DfE received for the tender, what funds have been allocated to developing the new status and why the qualification is being introduced in the first place. The responses are expected by the end of the week.
The funding needed to be invested in social work placements. This is the weakness in social work education. – social work academic
One comment on Community Care’s story on the tender said: “This is a worrying development, not so much in the sense of the lack of evidence for the need for a new a professional standard of qualification, but in the sense of handing over of £2m to one of the world’s biggest private management consultancies whose interests are solely focused on maximising the rate of return for their shareholders and not necessarily on the needs of the people social work serves.”
But it is not just the tender and the new test that is causing raised eyebrows and a certain wariness within the sector. More and more people, from frontline social workers to those in prominent positions (all of whom wish to remain anonymous amidst fears of repercussions, such has been the sensitivity in the sector) are asking questions about the degree of influence of Morning Lane Associates on children’s social care.
Morning Lane Associates was founded by the chief social worker Isabelle Trowler and Steve Goodman, and jointly headed up by Mary Jackson following their successful development of the Reclaiming Social Work model at Hackney children’s services.
We’ve seen what happened to one hospital that was handed over to a private company-the company walked away when assessing what? Profit!- practice educator
Funding Morning Lane
Trowler handed over her shares to Goodman after being made chief social worker. Mary Jackson has also handed over her shares following her being asked to head up Firstline, a training scheme for firstline managers currently being developed by the team behind Frontline. The new scheme also received £1.8m in DfE funds as part of the Innovation Programme.
Frontline, for which Morning Lane is professional advisor and training partner, has had its funding extended by the DfE for this year to a total of £5.6m to date.
Morning Lane itself has also received around £4m in Innovation Fund money to roll out its Reclaiming Social Work model to five authorities.
The DfE has made it very clear Trowler played no part in in any decision or tender involving Morning Lane Associates. She declared an interest, absented herself from any meeting concerning a bid by Morning Lane Associates and holds no remaining financial stake in the company – the department wouldn’t have allowed it any other way.
A DfE spokesperson issued the following statement: “Professional procurement processes between the Department for Education and Morning Lane Associates have been followed in all cases where they have been awarded funding.
“Both the chief social worker and the department have acted with complete probity at all times. Any suggestion to the contrary would be entirely false.”
While there is no suggestion of legal wrongdoing, the fears continue that children’s social work is being pushed in a particular direction – by the agenda of a small number of people with a large amount of influence .
A source in the sector told Community Care they believed it was not irrelevant that the contract has been awarded to Morning Lane, but that this was not about financial gain: “You don’t have to be in the room to influence a decision. Isabelle Trowler, through her tweets and [public appearances], makes her views very clear.”
One commenter on a Community Care article said: “If Ms Trowler sincerely stands to gain no pecuniary benefit from an expected contract award then given previous business ties it still appears akin to ‘a job for the boys’ here and…deserves some further scrutiny.”
Despite repeated opportunities to do so, both on social media and directly by Community Care, the DfE and Trowler have refused to comment or respond to such concerns.
A source said: “In the context of austerity we were embarked upon a reform process. Every bit of that reform process has been undermined by the chief social worker who has her own agenda – and this is the final straw.”