Consultation Response to Department for Education Proposals: Powers to delegate children's social care functions.
These proposals are published without reference to any research or evaluation that provides evidence to justify them. In particular, while not specified, the new ‘freedoms’ proposed appear to include the delegation of statutory child protection responsibilities, and the Centre for Social Work Practice Trustees and Operational Management Group views this with grave concern. The Munro Review of Child Protection, commissioned by this government, is a sound and excellently evidenced basis for progressive reform of the system to ensure better outcomes for children. However, its recommendations have not so far been pursued with sufficient rigour or determination throughout the country, and these proposals will make that task more difficult if further ‘arms length’ management and outsourcing of statutory services to protect children is the result. In particular CSWP views with great concern the possibility that private sector, profit-making providers might be enabled to manage child-care and protection services. Professor Munro has made her own opposition to these proposals clear, on these same grounds. She has noted accurately that many innovations have in fact been generated by local authorities, and we would cite Hackney’s Reclaiming Social Work initiative, and the success of Family Drug and Alcohol Courts as just two examples of such innovation. There is no evidence that any private sector providers have the requisite experience, accumulated managerial expertise, or political and social will to offer sensitive service provision in this uniquely complex, conflictual and emotionally charged arena. The statutory protection of children entails engagement with fundamental decisions about relationships between children, their families, and the state. For profit enterprises are in inherent conflict with the social duty to make decisions in the best interests of children, independently of considerations of cost to shareholders or investors. Professor Munro and many others have already referred to the damaging ‘perverse incentives’ that will be facilitated if these proposals are enacted, and CSWP is in full agreement with this position.
It is true that a ‘context of failure’ is a poor basis for promoting innovation. But these proposals offer no strategic arguments for how to promote innovation by means that ensure that fundamental conflicts of organisational interest are minimised. In other European countries there is much greater collaboration between state funded services and the not-for-profit sector in the provision of child protection services. We would view more positively proposals that sought to extend this kind of collaboration with third sector organisations which have a sustained record of successful service delivery of child care services.
The protection of vulnerable and at risk children in our society is a fundamental democratic obligation. Children are citizens, but usually without an organised ‘voice’. We urge government to reconsider these proposals in the interests of the most vulnerable children in our society, who have the least capacity to exercise choice, voice, or to ensure their rights are respected.