Beverley Hughes presses ahead with social care practices despite sector’s scepticism

Children’s minister Beverley Hughes has said the government will pilot the contracting out of services for looked-after children to GP-style social care practices despite the idea receiving a mixed reaction from the sector.

A working group exploring the feasibility of piloting the practices is set to report shortly. But last week Beverley Hughes said pilots would take place on the practices, which were mooted in last October’s Care Matters green paper.

Hughes also said the forthcoming white paper on the Care Matters agenda would contain plans on legislating for the practices, under which groups of social workers would receive a budget to spend on placement and support for looked-after children.

Concerns they would create a two-tier system and a dilution of the accountability invested in councils as corporate parents were raised by respondents to the green paper consultation.

Ann Baxter, chair of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services’ health, care and additional needs policy committee, said the organisation was “very concerned” about the proposals.

She said the pilots would use up valuable resources and that money should be invested in councils to improve care rather than in a “new level of bureaucracy”.

Baxter warned: “The pilots must have a robust evidence base linked to outcomes over considerable time because this is not a quick-win situation on improving outcomes for looked-after children.”

But Ian Johnston, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, said the practices were needed as services for looked-after children had failed to sufficiently improve under the current system.

“Directors have had their chance to bring improvements and they have not satisfied the very basic requirements that have been called for by children for years, so we need a new approach,” he said.

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