Academics and experts have expressed their concerns in a letter to the Guardian following the Department of Educations announcement that it is considering outsourcing children’s services to private firms.
Professor Eileen Munro rightly highlights the ‘fickleness and failings’ of the market, suggesting caution in establishing a market in child protection which could create perverse incentives for private companies. A recent headline highlights the less savoury side of outsourcing – ‘Now troubled children are an investment opportunity: 18% return on the most disturbed and needy children in care homes is the extreme end of Britain’s outsourcing culture’ (Polly Toynbee)
A poll in the Guardian found 95% of respondents felt private firms should not be allowed to run children’s services.
However, the outsourcing/privatisation of children’s services is already here, and it’s extension into child protection is the next target for this government.
The letter has achieved its’ purpose in highlighting the issue and stimulating debate, the question is where do we go from here? I agree with my learned peers, we have to move beyond the ‘outsourcing’ of child protection and focus on our primary concern that vulnerable children will be exploited for profit, not unlike the vulnerable patients of Winterbourne View Hospital. A hospital set up by a Swiss equity company who primarily saw it as an investment opportunity and when the abuse of its’ patients was exposed promptly closed it down, probably moving onto the next investment opportunity provided by this government in the outsourcing of services.
Sadly government chooses to ignore this aspect of outsourcing. However, they do not ignore the opportunity to expose the failure of ‘social workers’ whenever possible. Although, they are less than explicit about the serious structural issues that prevent social workers delivering good services. The Munro Review provided a blue print for change which was universally accepted, however, it has been quietly watered down by the present government, a massive mistake in my opinion, but not unexpected as it really does not fit their ideological agenda and the dichotomous thinking of Mr Gove and co i.e. public sector bad, private sector good.
The issue is not about ‘outsourcing’, it is about the principles, values and ethics of those we outsource to. It is really about profit being made from the lives of those most vulnerable in society which feels abhorrent. Personally I feel the time is right to abandon the notion there is only one way of constructing the world of safeguarding, whether child or adult, if we are to move forward in this debate.
In a famous passage in his Treatise of Human Nature the political philosopher Hume writes about ‘the missing shade of blue’. According to Hume, if we are shown samples of two different shades of blue we can conjure up in our minds a third shade that fits between the two: the missing shade of blue.
The point of interest in Hume’s writing is not that we can invent a new shade of blue but that we can invent new ideas which connect to existing ideas.
Those working daily on the frontline of child protection I feel sure are more than able to achieve this, however, I have little faith, or trust, in those in government to move beyond their preferred shade of Tory blue.