Government proposals to abolish local safeguarding children boards (LSCBs) and replace them with a new system of local multi-agency arrangements, involving councils, police and the health service, were announced last October.
In order to pave the way for this, a number of changes to statutory Working Together guidance have been put forward. But, responding to a consultation on these, the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) has warned that the proposals will undermine, rather than improve, local efforts to improve safeguarding.
In its response to the Department for Education consultation, BASW said it is particularly concerned that cash-strapped local services will struggle to put in place effective alternative arrangements to replace LSCBs.
BASW also warned that the new arrangements have not been tested, are not backed with evidence that they will benefit children and, as a result, are too risky to implement.
"Whilst BASW England has always held the view that LSCBs should be improved, we did not call for their abolition and we consider this to be a regressive, negative and radical change at a time when the system is facing such severe challenge," BASW's response states.
"This proposal is untested and untried and our members are not convinced it is progressive."
The response adds: "BASW England is concerned that the huge austerity cuts experienced by all three partner agencies will ultimately underpin what the new safeguarding arrangements look like rather than what will works best for children.
"Whilst in principle we welcome greater flexibility, there are huge risks in the proposals in light of the impact of austerity."
The plans bring forward recommendations made in a 2016 review of LSCBs by government adviser Alan Wood and were made law as part of last year's Children and Social Work Act.
The plans include replacing serious case reviews with a new system of local and national reviews and giving clinical commissioning groups and councils joint responsibility for child death reviews.
Under the new arrangements safeguarding partners are also allowed to choose which "relevant agencies" should be part of new safeguarding arrangements.
Another concern BASW raises is around a proposed change to the statutory guidance that would see social workers no longer having to consult managers on assessment decisions.
It said that its members are "vehemently" opposed to this move as it undermines shared responsibility and managerial accountability.
"If this managerial oversight is lost social workers may well miss situations which need a more urgent response and spend time on situations which could be downgraded," states a BASW member quoted in the organisation's response.
"This is likely to lead to inefficiencies and serious cases being missed."