More child protection takeovers ahead, Gove hints

By Hannah Richardson
BBC News education reporter

image copyrightThinkstock
image captionThere have been a number of high profile failings in child protection cases recently

Michael Gove has said that more struggling children's services departments in England could be taken over by independent providers.

The Education Secretary also said he was considering opening up well performing departments to private and voluntary organisations.

This would be so they could innovate and improve their services, he said.

It comes amid efforts to make it easier for Mr Gove to intervene in failing children's services departments.

An amendment to the Children and Families Bill in the Lords has sought to clarify the secretary of state's existing powers to intervene where child protection services are found to be underperforming. The Department for Education has insisted the move was about clarifying the current situation.

Doncaster model

But others see it as enabling a greater role for private providers in all aspects of child protection services.

So far only one local authority children's services department, Doncaster, has been taken completely out of council control because it is failing.

The DfE is said to be eyeing a number of other children's services departments which are thought not to be performing as well as they should.

Child protection in some 20 local authorities has been judged as "inadequate" by Ofsted.

These are Barnsley, Bexley, Birmingham, Blackpool, Calderdale, Cambridgeshire, Cheshire East, Cumbria, Devon, Doncaster, Herefordshire, Isle of Wight, Kingston upon Thames, Medway, Norfolk, Northamptonshire, Rochdale, Sandwell, Slough and Somerset.

Doncaster children's services department is now being managed by an independent firm which has been chosen as a temporary improvement partner until an independent trust is set up.

In his speech at the NSPCC in London, Mr Gove said he would apply the same principles to social services departments as were already being applied to schools.

In the same way that 'academisation' sees schools being put under new management, children's social services could be taken out of local authority control and effectively privatised under the control of new trusts, he suggested.

'Challenge we face'

He said: "I confidently expect that the improvements we will see in Doncaster mean this model will grow."

Mr Gove said: "Also from today, all local authorities have the freedom to delegate their functions for children in care and childcare leavers to third parties."

He described this as "a first step towards freeing up innovative and ambitious local authorities to deliver greater diversity and excellence in provision".

He added: "Over the coming months, we will examine the case for extending these freedoms to more areas of children's social care services."

Some innovative councils were already "reshaping" services in this way "to bring a fresh impetus to reform in a sector which has for too long been closed to the voluntary sector and other providers".

Annie Hudson, chief executive of The College of Social Work, said: "We support the secretary of State's determination to free up social workers from unnecessary bureaucracy, and to support them to be innovative and to use their professional initiative.

"It is vital, however, that if local authorities do hand over some of their powers for looking after children to third parties, that there are clear lines of accountability back to them for high quality services that the public rightly expect."

Listing the names of high profile child protection case tragedies, such as Daniel Pelka and Keanu Williams, Mr Gove said: "I believe that we have not been either systematic, radical or determined enough in our efforts to reform the system of child protection in this country.

"But that is changing. And it is my aim to ensure that change is equal to the challenge we all face."

He also criticised social workers for making excuses for the people they aim to help.


He said many social workers were indoctrinated to believe such people were "victims of social injustice"

This was pernicious, led to excuses being made for poor behaviour and broke the link between an individual's actions and the consequences, he added.

"It risks explaining away substance abuse, domestic violence and personal irresponsibility, rather than doing away with them," he said.

"Instead of working with individuals to get them to recognise harmful patterns of behaviour, and improve their own lives, some social workers acquiesce in or make excuses for these wrong choices," he added.

Mr Gove, who was adopted, also paid tribute to the social workers whom he said "transformed" his life along with his adoptive parents.

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