It is “unlikely” that small, GP-style social work practices will be able to replace the functions of local authority children’s services, according to a three-year evaluation of the pilot scheme.
All five social work practice pilots established by the Department for Education in 2008 have remained dependent on local authorities for various services and functions, researchers from the University of Central Lancashire and King’s College London found.
The practices varied in their makeup: one was set up by a group of staff who moved out of the local authority, one by a group who remained within the local authority but operated as a separate unit, one was a small private business and two were run by voluntary organisations.
“None were fully independent or autonomous and none took on responsibility for managing the placement budget for looked after children,” said Nick Stanley, professor of social work at Central Lancashire, who led the evaluation team.
Other key findings included:
- There was no discernable difference between the quality of children’s relationships with social work practice staff and that of similar children and young people looked after by local authorities. “Staff in social work practices were no more accessible,” the study found.
- Only three of the five pilots reported low staff turnover, one of the scheme’s key aims.
- The more successful pilots shared three common factors: limited caseloads, a tight remit – social work practice staff were not responsible for child protection work – and a commitment to supervision.
- Only two of the pilots took the controversial “payment by results” approach, but the payments were linked to savings made on placement budgets, rather than outcomes for children and young people.
- Children and parents like being known to a small team of workers and staff.