Ed Balls announces six areas to pilot social work practices

Children’s secretary Ed Balls today announced the six councils that will pilot the contracting out social work services for looked-after children to “independent practices” from 2009-13.

He made the announcement alongside the publication of the government’s children’s workforce strategy and an assessment of progress on its 10-year Children’s Plan, published exactly one year ago.

Balls said Blackburn with Darwen, Hillingdon in London, Kent, Liverpool, Sandwell and Staffordshire councils would pilot practices, which will be private or voluntary sector providers or small groups of social workers.

Better outcomes and job satisfaction

Balls said: “These pilots will test whether independent, social-worker led organisations can deliver innovative new ways of working and better outcomes for children in care alongside increased social worker job satisfaction. They are one approach among a range we are testing to improve capacity, skills and practice in social work.”

In all, 17 councils expressed an interest in piloting practices, which the government considered to be a high number despite representing only 11% of English councils.

The idea for practices has proved controversial, with some children’s directors originally arguing that the resources invested in the pilots should be used to boost council social work provision for children in care more generally.

Funding model too risky

Voluntary sector bodies have also suggested that the proposed funding model is too risky for providers. Under the plans, practices would be increasingly paid according to the outcomes they achieve for children.

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