Sandwell calls time on practice pilot for looked after children

Sandwell Council has dropped out of the government's social work practice pilot scheme for looked after children. Bob Badham, the council's cabinet...

Sandwell Council has dropped out of the government’s social work practice pilot scheme for looked-after children.

Bob Badham, the council’s cabinet member for children and families, said the council had decided to concentrate instead on work it is doing “to revitalise and restructure children’s social care”.

Sandwell put the pilot on hold at the beginning of this year after an unannounced Ofsted inspection uncovered significant problems in its safeguarding services.

Under the scheme, funded by the then Department for Children, Schools and Families, the council was due to contract out services for looked-after five- to 12-year-olds to a social enterprise run by social workers.

But the Sandwell branch of Unison has been calling on its members to boycott the practice following concerns about potential job losses and the threat of privatisation.

Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social services, said: “There’s such a big agenda in children’s social work at the moment, the challenges are so daunting, it’s not surprising that some authorities are deciding [social work practices] are too risky.

“It requires a lot of effort and input to get them off the ground, and I don’t think there was a huge amount of interest in it to begin with.”

However, Laurie Gregory, executive director of the Foster Care Co-operative, which had successfully bid for the contract to set up the practice in Sandwell, said: “We believe the biggest losers in this will be the 100 children and the cohort they chose to come into the pilot.

“They are going to miss out on what we hoped would be a good style of support.”

Before the election, then shadow chancellor George Osborne said any public sector team delivering a function that could be paid according to a simple results-based contract drawn up with central government could form a co-operative.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said it was continuing discussions with Sandwell on “how best to progress the pilot within the context of their broader transformation plan”.

Other social work practice pilots in Staffordshire, Kent, Hillingdon, Liverpool and Blackburn with Darwen have gone live and are being evaluated.

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