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Care of vulnerable must not be 'handed over' to private companies – BASW's Chief Executive

The head of the British Association of Social Workers warned against the care of vulnerable people being “handed over” to private companies.

Bridget Robb said social work was facing a time of “unprecedented” change across the UK with local government in England “collapsing” and services being commissioned out to third parties.

Speaking at the association’s annual general meeting, the association's Chief Executive stressed children “deserved better” and their care should remain a public sector duty.

During an address to members, Ms Robb also highlighted the growing challenge faced by child sexual exploitation (CSE), sex trafficking and child pornography by organised criminal gangs.

Her speech came in the wake of growing outsourcing within social services in England.

“The structures and systems which have delivered social work services is under challenge like never before,” said Ms Robb.

“Local government in England is collapsing like never before – with mergers, take overs and city regions externalising services.

“BASW has always supported social workers wherever you are working – so we are not against change, nor fearful that good social work services can only be provided by one sort of employer – but the onslaught of change is unprecedented.”

The outcome of the General Election would make little difference apart from affecting the pace of that change, said Ms Robb, though added devolution would also have an impact in different parts of the UK.

She stressed the state must continue to play a “key role” in looking after the most vulnerable in society.

“It is not acceptable that vulnerable children and adults are handed over to the care of private companies and just monitored by the state through commissioning. Our children and vulnerable adults deserve better from us.”

On CSE, Ms Robb said the response of professionals had not been good enough in the past and greater collaboration between different agencies was needed.

“The extent of child sexual exploitation has been a shock for all professionals” she said.

“It has shown up the inadequacy for us as a profession to only focus on the individual child or family. We need to work closely with the police and other professionals who are involved in gangs work, trafficking and pornography.

“We must ensure that all social workers are fully appraised of the way that children and young people are being touted around the country by gangs and being trafficked between cities and seaside towns as well as internationally.

“Trafficking is not just something which brings children and adults from other lands to our countries – but it is something which happens on a daily basis to our children and young people here.”

Ms Robb pledged the Association’s support for a pending inquiry into historic child abuse in England.

And she said issues around consent in adoption also needed to be looked at.

“The UK remains one of the few countries in the world that permits adoption without the consent of parents. It is right that we challenge ourselves to identify what is the best practice in this complex work.”