Green Paper Plan For Children’s Social Care Practices Sparks Controversy

Children’s services chiefs are divided over plans to put the private and voluntary sectors in charge of looked-after children. Senior figures have clashed over the proposal in last week’s Care Matters green paper to pass responsibility from local councils to “social care practices” run like GP surgeries.

Alastair Pettigrew, director of children’s social care at the London Borough of Lewisham, backed the plan: “Looked-after children need and want someone to confide in and it is disrespectful to them that we create organisations that result in those people continually changing. We have to learn from GP practices where people remain in place.”

But the Association of Directors of Social Services expressed concern that the new arrangements could blur the lines of accountability. The association’s vice president, John Coughlan, said: “We’ve never had a problem with exploring new models of care. But we are particularly keen that the line of accountability through to the corporate parents shouldn’t get blurred.”

Individual directors of children’s services were even more critical. David Hawker, children’s services director at Brighton & Hove City Council, warned it could leave children’s services directors with less funds for key functions. He said: “The biggest danger is it will take resources from the very social work functions that are core to our role such as child protection.”

A director who did not want to be named added: “It stinks. I don’t want a proposal that is going to end up leeching lots of qualified social workers from local authority practice and let everybody off the hook of accountability for corporate parenting.”

The plan for social care practices is understood to have been put in the green paper at the last minute by the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit.

A working group to explore the idea will be led by Julian le Grand, the academic behind the NHS payment-by-results system.