The government will not privatise child protection or “politicise” social work, the children’s minister has said.
Edward Timpson urged delegates at the Association of Directors of Children’s Services conference to ignore “conspiracy theories” on the motives behind the government’s social care reform agenda.
Key planks of the reforms, which are underpinned by the Children and Social Work Bill, have generated controversy.
Powers to grant councils exemptions from certain children’s social care legislation have sparked fears they could undermine children’s rights and incentivise more private providers to take on services. Plans to bring the regulation of social workers under government control have been met by concerns the profession’s foundations could be shaped by short-term political priorities.
Timpson dismissed those fears today and insisted the reforms aimed to free-up professionals and leaders to create “an environment where excellent practice can flourish”. He said testing and evaluating new ways of working should become the norm for services and praised several councils for initiatives trialled through the Department for Education’s social care innovation programme.
He said: “The main thing I want to say about this strategy is this is your opportunity to work in the way that you know best for children. The future I want to see is one in which excellent and emboldened professionals, like yourselves, don’t shape your practice to comply with any diktat from me or from Whitehall or even the Ofsted framework. I want you to feel confident to keep pushing the boundaries to redefine what works through rigorous and evidence-based practice.
He added: “The bill currently before parliament does what many of you asked and goes even further. Through the new power to innovate we’re looking to say that ultimately excellent frontline social work practice should be defined not by the government, or parliament, but by local practice leaders with more freedom to operate within a clear statutory framework. So our commitment to innovation and flexibility and our determination to put you in the driving seat is real.
“It is right that we debate this, the quality of which in parliament is strong, but let us have a debate not based around conspiracy theories but on the facts as they stand. Stories about the government wanting to privatise child protection services might sell newspapers, but it has absolutely no basis in fact.
“Stories about government seeking to politicise the social work profession couldn’t be more wrong. We don’t want to privatise child protection services. We won’t privatise child protection services. And we won’t politicise the social work profession. Our changes are unashamedly designed to help social work move forward to the kind of high public service profession we all want it to be.
“I am, for better or worse, an undiluted pragmatist. I’m interested in what works. So let’s focus on what we’re trying to achieve and not what others would have us believe. My message is that there is a choice for each of you and all your social work teams. You can either see the worst in government, or see conspiracies and threats, or you can see and seize the opportunity to help shape social care in a way that puts the best practice leaders in charge of defining what excellence is.”
A coalition of social work organisations and unions, including the British Association of Social Workers, has called on the government to drop the controversial innovation clause in the bill and scrap the plans to bring social worker regulation under government control. The bill is currently going through parliament.
Timpson used the speech to launch a new government strategy for care leavers. He also announced the government would launch a national stocktake of fostering, to look at how placements are made, how the market operates and examine what skills and support different foster carers need to meet the needs of looked-after children.