Alastair Pettigrew defends social work practices against critics

    Alastair Pettigrew, a leading proponent of giving independent practices responsibility for the care of looked-after children, has accused critics of the idea of reacting like monopolies.

    The director of children’s social care at Lewisham Council, south-east London, and one of two people credited with conceiving the idea, told a Community Care conference that he often “wondered why such a simple idea could be so controversial”.

    Among other organisations, he criticised the Association of Directors of Children’s Services for its opposition to the plan.

    The Children and Young Persons Bill would enable up to ten councils to pilot the outsourcing of social work services for looked-after children to independent GP-style practices, run by small groups of social workers, who could make a profit. The idea was first aired in last October’s Care Matters green paper and taken forward in this summer’s white paper, the subject of last Friday’s conference.

    Following the white paper, the ADCS said it was unconvinced the plan would improve services and the resources spent on them would be better directed towards existing services, to boost the training, support and retention of social workers.

    But Pettigrew told the conference that the practices would improve continuity and stability for children in care because the financial stake held by social workers would give them much more incentive to stay longer. There would also be more autonomy and less bureaucracy for practitioners, he claimed.

    He pointed out that profit-making services already existed for looked-after children, such as private fostering agencies, and claimed that the current system of local authority care had failed.

    Earlier, Shaftesbury Young People chief executive and ex-MP Hilton Dawson had signalled his support for practices and dismissed criticism from some delegates as overly “negative”.

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