More than a third of local authorities in England will be delivering – or looking to deliver – children’s services through “new models” such as not-for-profit trusts by 2020.
This is the ambition set out by the government in a policy paper published this week, which claims that the current system of delivering social care services by in-house local authority teams “is not delivering consistently excellent practice”.
The Putting Children First paper says: “In future we expect to see more children’s services not-for-profit Trusts leading children’s social care services in a single authority, or having responsibility for all children’s social care services in a combined authority area.
“It is also likely that we will see Trusts delivering a sub-set of children’s social care services, for example, for leaving care services. In some areas combined authorities will commission services across wider areas and different kinds of services will operate across different areas, according to what works best to improve outcomes for children and families.”
The government said local authorities “are diverse in size and demography, but the structure for delivering services is much less diverse and governed by very many of the same rules… Whilst structural change is not an end in itself, in the right circumstances it may be the key to unlocking improvement and responding to budgetary pressures as well as new threats to our children and young people.”
The commitment comes as the government places more emphasis on local authority freedoms and innovation.
The Children and Social Work Bill contains a controversial ‘Power to Innovate’ clause, which would allow local authorities to request exemptions from children’s social care legislation. A £200 million innovation fund, with a focus on new models of delivery and residential care, will open for bids in September, and the government has committed to transferring more failing local authorities into trust arrangements.
The policy paper also restated the government’s commitment to intervene in areas where children’s services are consistently judged to be failing.
“We will…immediately appoint a Commissioner wherever council failure is systemic,” the paper said, “with a presumption that the service will be placed outside of the council’s control, unless the Commissioner identifies good reasons not to do so, and where we judge that failure has become persistent we will take the same approach.”
Alternative delivery models are currently in place across the country, and the government said evidence from them “is very encouraging”.
Analysis of some of these models, including in the ‘Tri-borough’ children’s services in Hammersmith and Fulham, Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea, has also been published this week.
No for-profit organisations
The government argues new models help drive improvement by refreshing the leadership, and attract “strong and ambitious people” to places where new ways of working are necessary. These can also provide a sharper focus on children’s social care, and bring together different areas in robust structures, the paper said.
However, despite a commitment to new ways of delivering services, it added that there will be “no change” to legal arrangements which prevent local authorities delegating functions to profit-making organisations.
Education secretary Nicky Morgan also announced yesterday that a first of its kind joint service will be set up in Norfolk, where Barnardo’s will work in partnership with the council to help improve its looked-after children’s service.