From next month, all local authorities will be able to delegate responsibility for children’s social care services to an independent provider from the voluntary or private sectors.
The government has said it is taking the step because regulations set out in the Children and Young Persons Act 2008 that allowed councils to trial the arrangements over the past five years are due to end in November.
In order to allow the pilot projects to continue, it is triggering Part 1 of the Act that will allow any local authority to delegate functions.
However, critics have rounded on the idea. They say the initial consultation in January was not widely publicised and fear the changes could be potentially damaging for children in care.
The situation came to light again after a short consultation, which closed last Wednesday (9 October), was launched on how providers will be required to register with Ofsted.
John Kemmis, a trustee of the Care Leavers Foundation and former chief executive of Voice, said: “The ethics of the state farming out its entire responsibility for children it is looking after is questionable.
“In effect it is selling off parental responsibility to private or voluntary sector providers.
“You have to ask how far this country is prepared to go with the privatisation agenda when local authorities will be able to tender out their parental responsibility.
“Is this not a step too far?”
He added that the proposed regulations are “vague”, and the fact that the term “appropriately qualified” is used in relation to those who would be allowed to work for providers, means that standards could drop.
“It leaves the door open for non social-work staff to plan for children in care,” he said.
A response to the latest consultation by Unison said that the union “continues to believe that the case has not been made for commencement of Part 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 2008”.
“The results of the independent evaluation are inconclusive at best and provide no clear evidence base upon which to proceed with the roll-out of the social work practice model.
“Unison is concerned that enactment of Part 1 [of the Act] will pave the way for wholesale privatisation of these sensitive and critical social work functions, allowing contracts to be won by commercial contractors which do not operate on a social worker led basis and are driven by shareholder profit maximisation.
“The implications of this are risky, untested and have not been properly debated or scrutinised in parliament.”
The first nine areas to take part in the social work pilots were announced in February 2008.