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Government funding prompts children's care outsourcing plans

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A handful of councils are planning to hand the delivery of children’s social services to outside organisations, under a government-funded scheme that asks authorities and other organisations to rethink the way the services are run.

Officials from the Department for Education told LGC that about 10% of the 60 strongest applications to the department’s £30m children’s social care innovation programme were based on an “alternative delivery model”, in which statutory services would be run outside the local authority.

Some of these plans involved a wide range of children’s services being transferred from the council and others were limited to specific service areas, they said. 

The £30m fund for 2014-15, which according to a spokeswoman for the department will be worth a “substantially larger amount” in 2015-16, will support councils and other organisations to “rethink” the way children’s services are run.

Almudena Lara, deputy director of the department’s social work reform and innovation programme, said at the Solace summit in Liverpool last week that the department had received about 285 expressions of interest in the fund, from councils and other public, private and voluntary sector organisations. This was “much higher than we anticipated”, she said.

Among the strongest 60 expressions of interest, she said, about 10% had as their “primary idea type” the removal of some services from the local authority.

“We’d have liked to see more [proposals for] alternative delivery models,” she said.

However, she added, the government had only this summer started to allow social care functions to be “delegated” to other providers, adding that the timing of this “didn’t work well with the [innovation] programme”.

“We want to encourage people to make use of the delegated functions,” she said.

During a presentation at the conference, Ms Lara also said the department was considering removing some commissioning responsibilities from councils.

“There’s a question of whether the local authority level is the right level of commissioning for some complex needs,” she said.

“Secure children’s homes is one example of a service that’s delivered to a handful of children and local authorities lack knowledge to know how to engage with the system and commission services here.

“The question is, is the provision of services for adolescents something that can be commissioned at a higher level?”

She also said there was an “unacceptable variation in quality and outcomes” in councils’ children’s services.

“There’s no observable relationship between the amount you spend and the quality of outcomes,” she said.

Also during the session, Philip Simpkins, chief executive of Bedford BC, said the “hardest thing” for councils was to recruit sufficient numbers of social workers.

“We are being robbed by what is becoming an agency culture across south-east England, where it’s much more financially advantageous for social workers to become self-employed and do the circuit,” he said.

“There are not enough qualified, experienced social workers. Until we come up with an answer to this issue, all local authorities will continue to struggle.”

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