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Plans to allow outsourcing of child protection will put young people at risk

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The following article was published by the guardian.

The crimes of Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris and the revelations about Rotherham are stark reminders of where our responsibility to protect children has fallen short. Learning the lessons of these will lead to changes to the existing child protection system, unfortunately current Government legislative changes will harm not help investigation and protection.

The Government wish to allow local authorities to outsource child protection investigations and care proceedings. They did consult a rushed affair with just six weeks for responses, which included Easter and May bank holidays. Not surprisingly there was very little media coverage or discussion and the regulations were quickly laid in parliament, passed by the House of Lords in July and are to be considered in the Commons in the autumn.

The one significant issue of public concern focused on the potential for profit to be gained from child protection, with 70,000 people signing two petitions. The Government moved quickly to say that local authorities could only outsource this aspect of children’s services to not-for-profit organisations, and talked about social enterprises, community interest companies and voluntary organisations. But there is nothing to prevent companies setting up not-for-profit subsidiaries to do the work, and charge them excessive ‘management’ fees.

Other more complex issues were not widely considered, such as independent organisations intruding into family life, and the question of data sharing between public, private and third sector organisations. The full implications of these changes to the most sensitive areas of children’s services have not been fully explored. While currently many children’s services are provided by charities, it would be a significant change to let them undertake child protection investigations, child assessments, and seek court orders to remove children from families.

Further proposed changes are likely to increase the risk to children. The Deregulation Bill, currently before parliament, removes the requirement of those providing social work services on behalf of local authorities to be registered, regulated or inspected. No-one has suggested that those providing care, such as foster parents or children’s homes need no longer be regulated. How can it be right that those making the placements aren’t?

The Children’s Minister, Edward Timpson MP, has stated local authorities will retain overall accountability. However once functions are delegated how will a local authority retain sufficient experienced staff to effectively monitor the contract? Once contracted out how will the differing and changing pressures in children’s social work be managed?

The Chief Social Worker, Isabelle Trowler, has argued that for local authorities the same legal duties will apply as now, and they will be subject to precisely the same inspection regime whether or not they choose to delegate functions; thus the critical thread of accountability is unaffected by anything being proposed. This misses the point.

The local authority remains accountable but is restricted in its ability to act. How can it show democratic accountability for processes that intrude into the lives of children and families? Questions are being asked about the failure to sufficiently hold services to account in Rotherham. What consideration has been given to the added complexities involved when services are outsourced?

The implications on the ability of local authorities to oversee child protection must be more fully debated and discussed. It is not acceptable for Ministers to wash their hands of responsibility and expect local authorities to manage the flaws in the system.

Comprehensive inspections of safeguarding policies and procedures are essential for all organisations working with children. Proper co-ordination of services and good communication is essential. An outsourced fragmented system with long lines of accountability will put more children at risk.


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