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ADCS President slams ‘blatant profiteering’ of agency social work

John Pearce used his speech at the Annual Conference for directors of children’s services to criticise the growth in the practice by agencies of placing ‘project teams’ and provide an update on the proposals from the Care Review.

07/07/23

ADCS President slams ‘blatant profiteering’ of agency social work

John Pearce, President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), has urged the government to take “swift and decisive action” on the “unaffordable costs and blatant profiteering, that’s associated with agency social work.”

Speaking at group’s Annual Conference, Pearce said the practice of agencies placing entire ‘project teams’ was a particular concern.

So-called ‘project teams’ provide a number of practitioners for an agreed period, often with capped caseloads. A Department for Education (DfE) says these teams are increasing their stranglehold on local authorities by restricting their access to individual social workers.

The Child and Family Social Worker Workforce consultation earlier this year states: “As the project team model has gained market traction, agency workers are increasingly offered only as part of a managed service project team. “Solution” focused approaches, such as offering a project team to close a number of cases within a specific timeframe, can also conflict with relationship-based practice. The approach can also increase workforce instability given an entire team can leave together at short notice.”

In his speech, John Pearce said ADCS members are “committed to working with government on implementation of the full suite of proposals” considered in the document “at pace.”

“It is not an easy set of reforms to deliver,” Pearce said, adding: “but we must hold our collective nerve.”

The ADCS President also criticised the lack of strategy to deliver on the Competition and Markets Authority’s recommendations for the social work sector.

Following a year-long ‘market study’, the CMA last year condemned a ‘dysfunctional’ system which leaves local authorities unable to get suitable placements for children. The government has accepted the recommendations but Pearce said there is no strategy that delivers on them.

“The lack of placement sufficiency and the associated challenges this brings are unprecedented. I fear that we will reach crisis point before we are able to reap any of the wider benefits envisaged by the reform programme”, he warned.

The ADCS President also offered what he called “some constructive challenge” to the government’s proposals for Regional Care Cooperatives (RCCs). RCCs are a proposed reform from the Care Review which recommended launching new dedicated bodies to “bring an end to profiteering in the children’s social care market” and recruit thousands of new foster carers. The cooperatives are suggested to be local authority-owned regional bodies which will use their “scale and expertise” to provide a wider choice of homes for children closer to where they live.

However, directors of children’s services have proposed a summary of the prerequisites, which they say must be delivered nationally for the plans to succeed.

“A set of national conditions for success need to be in place before we can even think about trying to implement reforms, these include a workforce plan, a multi-year funding settlement, a more ambitious capital programme and possibly most critically a move to bring regulations up to date – it’s been two decades since the last substantial review and the world has changed a lot in that time, not least the needs of children and young people and how we respond to them,” Pearce said.

The ADCS President also expressed the urgent need for a ‘new conversation’ with the Home Office and the Department for Education about migrant children.

“Every year, as the weather improves and more small boats arrive, we have the same conversations and crisis response. More recently, the pressure hasn’t been as seasonal, it’s been constant as we try to manage the demand on children’s services created by Home Office asylum hotels, and soon to be created large adult asylum sites.

“Some aspects of the current system need urgent change, it’s simply not acceptable that age disputed young people from Home Office commissioned hotels are treated as spontaneous arrivals to host local authorities, this is clearly not the case. They have been placed there by the Home Office so there is nothing spontaneous about it and the disproportionate impact on host local authorities is becoming an increasing issue we need to revisit now.”

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