The Department for Children, Schools and Families has released fresh details of how new social work practices for looked-after children – due to be piloted next year – will operate.
In a “prospectus” published last week, it said between six and nine English councils would trial practices by contracting out cases of children in long-term care to independent social work teams.
The GP-style practices, designed to improve stability in relationships between looked-after children and their social workers, will be paid according to their ability to improve outcomes for young people.
Lead professionals will be appointed to work with individual children and support them “through each and every episode including when they leave care”.
A key objective is reducing staff turnover and improving continuity of care. According to the DCSF prospectus, young people see as many 30 different social workers during their time in care.
They are also designed to cut bureaucracy and empower practitioners to make decisions about cases.
Practices will be judged against the five Every Child Matters outcomes – being healthy, staying safe, enjoying and achieving, making a positive contribution and achieving economic well-being – and a sixth, stability and continuity. The latter will cover both placement stability and practitioner continuity.
The practices could be one of three models: professional partnerships run by qualified social workers, or teams managed by third sector organisations or private companies.
They will be monitored by local authorities, which will retain overall responsibility for the children as corporate parent and will continue to manage adoptions, assessments of foster carers, court proceedings, and care placements lasting less than six months.
“Growing shortage” of skilled social workers
The Association of Directors of Children’s Services welcomed the pilot arrangements, but Ann Baxter, who chairs its health, care and additional needs policy committee, raised concerns.
Due to the “growing shortage” of qualified social workers, Baxter warned there might also be “an impact on the rest of children’s services” from the creation of practices.
The prospectus does not specify a minimum level of experience for social workers, and David N. Jones, president of the International Federation of Social Workers, said that due to the high levels of risk involved, practitioners would have to be “experienced and highly competent”.
Professor Julian Le Grand, the government advisor who is credited with conceiving the idea for social work practices, said they were likely to contain a mixture of senior and junior practitioners.
The practice pilots will be introduced under the Children and Young Persons Bill, which is currently going through parliament.
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Professionals’ views of GP-style social work practices