A group of leading social work academics say they have deep concerns over government proposals to permit the outsourcing of the majority of children’s social services, including child protection, to private firms.
The Department of Education (DfE) is consulting on plans to allow councils to delegate most children’s services functions to third party organisations, including private providers.
The DfE said councils would not be forced to outsource care and said some local authorities had already used “external expertise to improve their work”. But a group of 37 academics, led by Professor Ray Jones of Kingston University, said child protection should not be handled by profit-driven firms.
In a letter to The Guardian, the academics say: “England has one of the most successful child protection systems in the world. This is based on strong accountability, stability, continuity, good local partnership working across professionals and agencies, and with experienced and committed professionals and leadership.
“The intention that private sector organisations such as G4S, Serco, Atos and others should be able to run child protection services causes considerable concern.”
Jones told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme that opening up child protection to market forces risked “potential chaos” and could destabilise services.
In a separate intervention, Professor Eileen Munro, whose landmark independent review of child protection was published in 2011, told the Guardian that creating a market in child protection risked creating perverse incentives for companies to either take more children into care or leave too many in risky situations.
“It’s a bad idea,” Munro told the Guardian. “It’s the state’s responsibility to protect people from maltreatment. It should not be delegated to a profit-making organisation.”
The DfE proposals could give councils the powers to outsource most children’s social services roles to third party organisations. But local authorities would not be able to delegate independent reviewing officer functions and could only hand adoption agency functions to a registered adoption society, according to the consultation paper.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We want to improve the quality and efficiency of children’s social care.
“Some councils are already using external expertise to improve their work, while others have asked us to extend these freedoms so that they can look at new, improved ways of delivering services.
“There will be no obligation for councils to take up these freedoms and any that do will still be held accountable by Ofsted.
“We will take into account all responses to the consultation before setting out next steps.”