£3m scheme to boost social work to be scrapped as DfE pulls funding

Department for Education scraps £8.5m funding for Children's Improvement Board removing cash to help improve frontline practice.

It seems unlikely alternative funding can be found for the scheme

A £3m scheme to improve social work practice in England looks set to be scrapped after the government pulled funding for the wider programme of which it is a part.

The local government-led Children’s Improvement Board (CIB) had planned to invest £3.2m this year in a Social Work Associate Practice (SWAP), a group of senior social workers who could be deployed to help improve frontline children’s social work in English councils.

However, the Department for Education this week announced that it was pulling its £8.5m of funding for CIB for 2013-14, despite the financial year having already begun and to the “complete shock” of CIB’s leaders. Though the DfE expects councils to fill the funding gap, local government leaders warned this would not be possible given the state of councils’ budgets.

‘Betrayal of vulnerable children’

Social work leaders slammed the decision. “It is well documented that we have a dearth of experienced social workers employed by local authorities,” said British Association of Social Workers professional officer Nushra Mansuri. “This decision, which prematurely pulls the plug on a scheme designed to bolster frontline social workers expertise through mentoring by experienced social work peers, is extremely disappointing.”

She added: “After so much was promised by the social work reform programme and the Munro review, ultimately this is a betrayal of vulnerable children.”

‘Complete shock’

“We knew this funding was always going to be time limited but this announcement comes as a complete shock when we are already a week into the new financial year,” said CIB director Colin Hilton. “It leaves no time for contingency planning and puts at risk the good work carried out by the Children’s Improvement Board in supporting councils to improve their children’s services.”

The CIB is a partnership between the Local Government Association (LGA), the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (Solace), and is designed to help councils improve their performance in children’s services.

Regional social work support

The SWAP programme was due to be its biggest investment for 2013-14. It was due to provide regionally-based support for councils to:

  • Improve social work practice in safeguarding and care;
  • Provide a means for good social work practice to be shared on a systematic basis;
  • Use secondments to share expertise and understanding across social work;
  • Increase experience in peer support between councils.

In addition to SWAP, the CIB was also due to fund 20 peer reviews of councils’ safeguarding services, provide support on child sexual exploitation for councils affected by the problem and offer additional support to councils facing government intervention because of poor safeguarding performance.

‘Sector-led means sector-funded’

A DfE spokesperson said: “The department always intended that its support would be time limited and that, in the longer term sector led improvement should mean “sector funded”. It is the responsibility of local government, working with delivery partners, to lead its own performance improvement and take individual and collective responsibility for achieving better outcomes for children.”

However, Hilton added: “Such work needs to be adequately resourced and it is untenable to throw the full weight of this on councils which are already contending with government cuts to their budgets by a third.”

Solace director Graeme McDonald warned that the CIB’s “innovative and forward-looking programme of work” to drive improvement would “prove far harder” to deliver without government support, and could lead to the replacement of sector-led improvement by “centralised bureaucratic regulatory and performance regimes”.

By contrast, the Department of Health announced this week it had increased funding for the adult care sector-led improvement programme, Towards Excellence in Adult Social Care, from about £500,000 to £800,000 for 2013-14.

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