Social work academics voice fears over child protection privatisation

Experts raise concerns over proposals from Department of Education that would allow outsourcing of child protection to third parties

Child in playground
Credit: Gary Brigden

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.

Related event

Ray Jones and others will be debating these issues at a session on exploring the future of statutory child protection services at Community Care Live on Wednesday 21 May.

Don’t miss out. Register here.

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.”

More from Community Care

4 Responses to Social work academics voice fears over child protection privatisation

  1. Jazz May 19, 2014 at 9:41 pm #

    Is everyone else out there so gobsmacked at the mere suggestion of privatising (e.g., fragmatising) child protection that no-one has commented? Don’t be beguiled, this is about profit not protection.

  2. Jo May 20, 2014 at 8:48 pm #

    I wonder what Isabel Trowler thinks…

    • Jazz May 21, 2014 at 11:29 pm #

      We’ll I don’t think it’s what Isobel Trowler or previous advice from those such as Lord Laming or Professor Munroe would advocate, recommend or condone. But I nor anyone socialworker (teacher, doctor, nurse …) else can speak for them – Current powerful performances by the aforementioned, now are needed to help promote justice and squash further continuation of “feudal” policies promoted by those in “power” who appear intent on continuing right wing policies taught them by their “parents” (1979 – 1997) in how to oppress.

  3. Debra Gentle May 21, 2014 at 10:11 pm #

    For more information regarding the negative impact of privatising child protection read “Scandalous Politics: Child Welfare Policy in the States by Juliet F. Gainsborough. As well, take a look at the website – National Coalition for Child Protection Reform in the US.