Private providers want to run the “full range” of children’s services if ministers can remove “bureaucratic burdens”, according to a government-commissioned report.
The research, which was commissioned by the Department for Education in 2014 to gauge the potential for developing the “capacity and diversity” of children’s social care in England, found providers had a “clear appetite” to take on more services, including assessment and safeguarding work.
The report, which was produced by consultancy firm LaingBuisson, concludes it is “hard to envisage how significant additional capacity and diversity could be created without more services being exposed to market forces”.
It suggests ministers could follow international examples and introduce regulations forcing councils to outsource more services. It also calls for the creation of a National Children’s Social Care commissioning board in order to deliver a “step change” in commissioning.
The DfE has rejected the option of introducing regulations to compel outsourcing. It also restated that rules are in place to prevent profit-making firms running specified children’s social care services.
The report found most of the private sector capacity to take on more services currently lay with children’s home providers, foster care providers and suppliers of locum social workers.
It was unlikely there would be sufficient capacity for any one firm to take on a “whole system” tender due to the commercial risks involved but both profit and not-for-profit providers would be keen to take on “small to medium” sized contracts, it added.
The report found few examples where responsibility for initial child protection investigations had been outsourced, adding: “Largely, where any outsourcing of welfare services had been a success, it should be noted that child protection had remained the responsibility of the authority or state.”
The report was overseen by an advisory panel including Isabelle Trowler, the chief social worker for children and Alan Wood, past president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services.
The government has previously been accused of looking to pave the way for privatisation of services through a set of controversial ‘innovation’ clauses in the Children and Social Work Bill.
The clauses would allow local authorities to apply for exemptions from children’s social care statutory duties for a limited period in order to “test new ways of working”.
In a bid to quell the privatisation fears, the government introduced an amendment preventing councils from using the powers to opt out from rules restricting profit-making in children’s services.
Last month the government suffered a defeat on the proposals in the House of Lords and they have been removed from the bill. However, the government could look to reintroduce the clauses when the bill reaches the House of Commnons this week.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “LaingBuisson looked at the provision of children’s social care services and considered ways of delivering them more effectively. We’ve already freed up local authorities to be more innovative in how they deliver children’s social care services through our Innovation Programme.
“However, we disagree with the option in the report relating to the privatisation of children’s social care services and we will not be implementing this option.”