Forcing councils to integrate education and children's social services could put young people at risk, according to the newly created social care regulator.
In an early display of its independence from government, the shadow Commission for Social Care Inspection warned structural changes could distract staff from service delivery.
But it said: 'Structural change puts at risk the very outcomes the structural change is intended to bring about. Those accountable for services to children take their eye off the ball and pay attention to developing the changed structures rather than the outcomes for children.'
This reflects comments made by shadow CSCI chair Denise Platt in her final chief inspector's report for the Social Services Inspectorate (LGC, 15 August), whose functions the new regulator will inherit in April.
The forthcoming Children's Bill will require top-tier councils to vest responsibility for education and children's social services in new children's services directors.
At the national social services conference in October, education secretary Charles Clarke said a one-size-fits-all model would be 'foolish'.
Commentators have seen the shadow CSCI's intervention as an assertion of its independence from government, following its formal creation last month with the passage of the Health and Social Care Act 2003.
Association of Directors of Social Services president Andrew Cozens said: 'I don't think there's any doubt that the organisation has set out its intent to be independent and robust.'
Unlike the Department of Health-based SSI, the new regulator will operate independently of government, led by a board appointed by the NHS Appointments Commission, not ministers.
Rodney Brooke, the chair of the General Social Care Council, said Ms Platt is part of a new breed of fiercely independent regulat or heads, epitomised by the Audit Commission's James Strachan.
He added: 'I think the government has bitten off more than it can chew.'