Ministers hope the introduction of cash incentives into the field of social work will drive up health, education and job prospects for children in long-term care.
The Department for Children, Schools & Families has put aside£6m to fund nine pilots for the practices. Guidance published and discussed at private consultation meetings over the past week said the pilots will be required to make “a proportion” of their payments to social workers dependent on their achievement of six broad goals.
These include the five Every Child Matters outcomes of health, safety, achievement, contribution and economic wellbeing that apply to all children, plus a new category promoting stability and continuity for children in care.
The practices will be staffed by experienced social workers, operated by the professionals themselves; the voluntary sector; or private companies.
But Jasmine Ali, head of the Children’s Services Network at the Local Government Information Unit, expressed fears over the move. “The children’s workforce doesn’t need a performance-related pay scheme linked to the outcomes framework,” she said. "What we really need are more highly-skilled and better paid social workers.”
Ann Baxter, who chairs the Health, Care & Additional Needs Policy Committee at the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said the organisation was keen to explore the possibilities of social work practices. But she questioned their effect on the wider workforce and queried how short-term payments could be linked to long-term objectives.
David Hawker, deputy chief executive and director of children’s services at Westminster City Council, said under the new arrangements social workers could be held directly responsible for all of the outcomes related to looked-after children. “It’s quite hard to untangle what other influences there may have been,” he said.