Clause 4 provides for the regulation of social work practices. It will require social work practices to be registered with Her Majesty’s chief inspector of education, children’s services and skills and they will be subject to regular inspections. The clause will also enable us to issue national minimum standards for social work practices and make regulations under the Care Standards Act 2000, as we have for other establishments.
We do not intend to bring the clause into force immediately. The pilot period in clause 6 will end when clause 4 is brought into force after there has been an evaluation of the pilots and a decision has been made to roll the model out more widely or five years after Royal Assent, whichever is sooner. We do not think it appropriate for social work practices to be regulated under the 2000 Act during the pilot phase because to introduce a new regulatory system for such a small number of pilots would be unduly burdensome and bureaucratic. Nevertheless, we will have the range of mechanisms that I set out earlier to monitor the work of social care practices and assure their quality.
Social work practices will be within the scope of the annual assessments by the inspectorates, including the chief inspector, from 2009 through the new comprehensive care assessment and through programmed inspections of services for children in care. Moreover, they will have to ensure that their functions are carried out under the supervision of social workers who are registered with the GSCC.
Will the Minister say what would happen in the scenario of a social worker who was working for one of the pilots being struck off during the pilot period? Would it differ from what would happen if they were working for the local authority? What additional inspection safeguards would be triggered for such a social worker practice, given that it would not be subject to the GSCC?
My understanding is that such a social worker would not be able to work for the social work practice any longer. I will correct myself if that is wrong. If there were wider implications of that scenario for the social work practice, ultimately there would be provision for the Government to take action centrally. Long before that, the local authority would have the ability to terminate the contract if events were serious enough. If there was systematic failure in a social work practice, I would expect the contract to be terminated at quite an early stage.
At local authority level, there will be proactive contract management by the local authority with input and support from the Department and those acting on its behalf, including Government office staff. That might involve participation in the commissioning process and attendance at contract management meetings. They will give general advice and guidance on commissioning and contract management issues. That will be complemented by the individual case reviews by the independent reviewing officer.
Finally, there will be an independent evaluation of the social work practice model, which we mentioned earlier, which will gather and report on performance measuring it against a range of indicators at regular intervals. Until we have evaluated the operation of the pilots, we will not know whether the practice model will be extended beyond the pilot phase and local authorities, but if it is to be continued to be used, the services should become regulated under the Care Standards Act to ensure high standards of practice from providers of social work services in the long term, in the same way as any other establishment or agency is regulated under that Act.
If the independent evaluation finds that the model as a whole has something to offer more broadly, the Government can switch on the ability of any local authority to decide to contract out to a social work practice. The local authority will make that decision—there will be no centrally determined or directed, top-down Government directive ordering local authorities to use this model. The provision will be available beyond the pilot areas to any local authority that feels that it is an appropriate model for them. The evaluation will consider, therefore, not whether an individual social work practice has been successful, but whether the model itself has something to offer to the system.