Government unveils plans to outsource child protection

By Joe Lepper

| 17 April 2014

Councils will be handed powers to outsource a whole range of children’s social care services including child protection under proposals announced by the government.

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The Department for Education wants to allow local authorities to "harness third-party expertise".

A consultation launched today proposes that local authorities should be able to outsource most areas of children’s services in what would represent a momentous shift in how children’s social care is provided.

Under the plans councils would be able to outsource child protection services as well as duties in relation to children’s trust boards and implementing children and young people’s plans.

The only area of children’s services that would be excluded from outsourcing would be delegating the functions of independent reviewing officers.

Meanwhile adoption services would still only be able to be outsourced to registered adoption agencies.

The consultation, which closes on 30 May, calls for the views of children’s social workers, care leavers, children in care and care providers on the plans.

The document states that the changes would “not remove responsibility from the local authority for ensuring their statutory obligations are met”.

In addition, Ofsted will continue to inspect any outsourced service as part of its single inspection framework and will hold councils responsible for poor practice.

“These changes will broaden the range of approaches available to local authorities as they look to secure the best outcomes for children in their area,” the consultation document states.

“They will allow authorities to harness third-party expertise,” as well as “set up more agile delivery structures outside traditional hierarchies.”

However the Local Government Association (LGA) is sceptical outsourcing will improve failing child protection services.

A LGA spokeswoman said: "Councils already make extensive use of the expertise of other organisations including private companies, charities, and voluntary organisations to help them deliver the best possible services.

"We have found some barriers where councils are working to help each other out and would welcome more flexibility, but it is clear that in every case of service failure, it has been councils with their committed professionals and democratic accountability that have turned the situation around and as yet we are not seeing other organisations stepping forward with the ability to do the tough job of child protection."

The consultation is linked to the Department for Education’s £30m innovation programme.

The government says it wants to reform the current “illogical” approach to improving children’s social care that is based on government intervention when a service is failing.

This consultation builds on previous legislation that allowed councils to outsource looked-after children’s services and those for care leavers, initially in social work practice pilot areas from 2008, but across all councils from November last year.

Ministers have previously said that a radical increase in outsourcing was likely. Last November Education Secretary Michael Gove called for councils to be given the power to outsource child protection services.

Just last month children’s minister Edward Timpson announced the launch of a study, to be led by Professor Julian Le Grand, into new ways children’s services could be delivered outside council control.

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