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Social work pilot doubts exposed

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The government’s low-key announcement of the pilots for its controversial social work practices programme is said to raise questions of councils’ enthusiasm.

Proposals to allow private companies, charities, or teams of independent social workers to test out new working models for social work services provided to looked-after children are a key part of the Children & Young People’s Act .

But the announcement of which councils will be running the pilots from next year was buried in a larger announcement by children’s secretary Ed Balls .

And just six local authorities the minimum number the government expected to take part will participate in the pilots running from next year to 2011. LGC understands 17 councils considered joining.

Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social care workers, said there was a danger the pilots would act as a distraction from core social work duties, rather than ensuring stability for vulnerable young people.

“There’s a strong suspicion that there hasn’t been a huge amount of interest from local authorities,” she said. “I think there’s an awareness within the department that people have some concerns.”

One senior children’s services source questioned how many of the 17 councils said to have expressed interest in running a pilot had been serious, and what enticements may have been offered by the Department for Children, Schools & Families , in addition to its proposed£6m in extra funding.

Another respected social services source said that while there was a need to find better ways of delivering children’s social services, the pilots could “make governance even more complex and indirect” at a time when public confidence in social workers was low.

Liverpool City Council , Sandwell MBC and Kent County Council told LGC they had originally expressed an interest in using the third sector for their pilots, while Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council said it would be inviting tenders for all models.

Hillingdon LBC and Staffordshire County Council are looking to pilot the ‘professional partnership of social workers’ model.

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