What you need to know about private firms’ role in flagship children’s social care reforms

Community Care looks at how private companies are involved in three of the government's key social care projects

Picture: Cultura/Rex

Does the Department for Education (DfE) want to privatise children’s social work or simply deliver much-needed improvements to a system under strain? Whatever your view, it certainly appears the DfE doesn’t feel the status quo in social care is good enough and it sees a role for private firms in helping to deliver the step change it believes is required.

Research published today by Community Care suggests that the DfE’s spending on private companies for social care-related work is growing. And global firms best known for their expertise in business consultancy, engineering and accountancy have been awarded multi-million pound contracts to deliver and influence three key planks of the government’s social care reform agenda.

Let’s be clear – our findings do not concern private firms running, or setting up non-profit organisations in an attempt to run, frontline social work services. That has been the focus of much of the ‘privatisation’ debate in social work so far and merits investigation in its own right.

Instead, our research focused on following the money to see where central government funding for children’s social care policy is going and what companies are expected to deliver in return. This is not about crude arguments over private sector/third sector/public sector and their respective merits and drawbacks. Instead it is an attempt to inform social workers about how reforms affecting their profession, and the families they work with, are being delivered.

The key contracts

So what are the key contracts that private firms have won and what are they for?

1. Delivery partner for the children’s social care innovation programme

Who won the contract? Deloitte, a business advisory firm, was awarded the contract in May 2014. The contract runs until March 2016.

How much is it worth? At least £4.52m over two years.

What’s the contract for? Implementing the children’s social care innovation programme – a DfE scheme backed by £100m of government funding. This is the government’s flagship policy to test new models of delivering children’s social care, including social work. People submit applications for a share of the £100m funding pot to pilot their projects.

Among its responsibilities, Deloitte is required to drum up at least 150 expressions of interest in the programme and, after assessing the applications, invite around 35 applicants to make a full proposal to the DfE. The company is tasked with filtering out applications “which are not of the desired quality levels” and required to work with those it selects to make a full proposal to advise them on how to access the funding.

The contract says more than 85% of proposals put forward by Deloitte should be scored ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ by the DfE’s investment panel. Interestingly, at a time of much debate over outsourcing of children’s social care, the contract also requires Deloitte to engage “a number of new entrants or ‘unusual suspects’ in the programme”. You can read the contract here.

Are other organisations involved? Deloitte has partnered with the Innovation Unit, a social enterprise specialising in public services innovation, and Mutual Ventures, a public sector consultancy firm, to deliver the contract. The partnership is called ‘The Spring Consortium’.

2. The development of a children’s social work accreditation system

Who won the contract? KPMG, one of the world’s largest professional services companies, was awarded the contract in March 2015. The contract runs until March 2016.

How much is it worth? £2.1m

What’s the contract for? KPMG is required to develop assessments for three new levels of practice being introduced in children’s social work. These are: an ‘approved child and family practitioner’ status, a ‘practice supervisor’ status and a ‘practice leadership’ status.

KPMG is required to develop the assessments and test them. It is also required to appraise the role that direct observation could play in the assessment process and report back to the DfE. The firm was also required to develop knowledge and skills statements for the ‘practice supervisor’ and ‘practice leader’ roles. Drafts of the statements were put out to consultation by the DfE this week. The full contract can be read here.

Are other organisations involved? To deliver the contract KPMG is partnering up with Morning Lane Associates, a company co-founded by Isabelle Trowler, chief social worker for children. Trowler returned her shares in Morning Lane when she took up her post as chief social worker in September 2013. The University of Leeds and LEO, a learning technologies firm, are also part of the consortium.

3. Delivery support for implementation of Special Educational Needs and disability reforms

Who won it? Mott MacDonald, a global engineering and management consultancy, was awarded this contract in March 2015. It runs until March 2016.

How much is it worth? £2.1m

What is it for? To support the delivery of special educational need and disability (SEND) reforms introduced as part of the Children and Families Act 2014. Among Mott Macdonald’s responsibilities, are to setup a SEND adviser service to “support and challenge” local authorities and third sector providers. Mott MacDonald are also expected to advise local authorities on their SEND “offer” and how they can better carry out coordinated assessments and commissioning functions. The full contract can be read here.

Are other organisations involved? To deliver the contract Mott MacDonald has partnered with two not-for-profit organisations – the National Development Team for Inclusion and the Council for Disabled Children.

What’s the significance?

In the past a lot of this type of work might have been expected to be awarded to large social care organisations such as The College of Social Work or the Social Care Institute for Excellence. That approach remains largely the case in adult social work, where accreditation standards work linked to the adult chief social worker’s knowledge and skills statement was awarded to Skills for Care and The College of Social Work.

Yet, on the children’s side of social care, it appears there is an appetite for putting out more contracts to the market. The DfE has said it wants to “support and challenge” the social care sector to improve. Our findings suggest that blending multinational private sector expertise with smaller social care organisations and not-for-profits is one of the department’s favoured ways of doing it.

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2 Responses to What you need to know about private firms’ role in flagship children’s social care reforms

  1. Tammy M July 30, 2015 at 6:58 pm #

    Personally I believe best outcomes result from multi-partnerships where by each agency has a proven track record of excellence in the said field. Contracting engineering companies to over see and make changes to children’s social work? Really? Simplistic description I’m giving yes, but never the less true. Its ridiculous. I’m dumbfounded.

    • Nanbar July 31, 2015 at 1:18 pm #

      It is clear that there needs to be some changes within Children’s social work to improve outcomes for the children and the families we support. Thant change can come about from more than one source and a good idea doesn’t necessarily come from one sort of individual or group. However like the last comment, it is helpful if an organisation has some idea or interest in the work and where an engineering corny falls into that is anyone’s guess. Let’s be clear we are dealing with a political ideology that thinks private good – public sector bad. There is money to be made and if it it at the cost of the most vulnerable in society then so be it. Social work with children is being distorted into a primarily managerial, process driven (despite the small fortune paid out for various committees saying otherwise). Relationships, spending time with children and their families, understanding the social context of the situation people are in along with good analytic and relationship skills. We are in danger of becoming irrelevant and I watch the profession I was passionate about being dismantled bit by bit.