It’s all too obvious that our Ministers still know very little about child welfare, and despite their backgrounds in family law or social care, it may well be a case of the blind leading the blind as they look to outdated services and enterprises to help boost the social care sector in this latest bid to improve things. But there is a silver lining to this murky cloud.
30 million of them, to be exact.
Mr Timpson has today announced that the government will be setting aside £30 million for its innovation programme, with seed grants of £10,000 for the development of favourable ideas. The programme’s first wave of funding for social care reform will look at rethinking children’s social work, and rethinking support for vulnerable adolescents in care or on the edge of care.
This isn’t the first time our Children’s Minister has asked the sector for help. In this exclusive article for the excellent Community Care, Mr Timpson goes to great pains to move on from a previous failed attempt at impassioning social workers and social care enterprises to ‘dig deep’ and ‘get creative’. On this occasion he called upon the sector to assist with reform, but did not offer any extra funding. No surprise then, that a sector which has to function along a profit margin of sorts failed to engage with his call to action. That was back in October of last year – you can still hear the tumbleweed rolling through the corridor at Westminster outside Mr Timpson’s office.
It was, of course, a disappointing result for Mr Timpson, despite hiring an entrepreneur who made a personal fortune from the insurance industry to work with him “to identify the sharpest, most inspirational thinking in the field”. Quite how insurance entrepreneurs and child welfare are connected is beyond comprehension. Such an awkward partnership inevitably will only serve to highlight the government’s clear priorities when it comes to child protection.
And now, having failed to rouse the minds and bodies of these various organisations, Ed’s come back with a 30 million pound offer, for anyone who can come up with ways to improve the situation for children in care. Astounding, given that his own family have a wealth of experience when it comes to fostering, and Mr Timpson himself practiced at the Family Bar for over a decade.
These facts then, should sound a warning bell to our Children’s Minister. If you are not able to come up with solutions yourself, how can you ask the very sector you wish to renovate, to come up with the goods?
Perhaps though, Mr Timpson is wary on that point. In the article he writes for Community Care, he invites everyone to get involved - not just local authorities, but companies, social enterprises and not for profit organisations as well. Ed even promises to financially support potential prospects, broker relationships and help out with evaluations where needed. It’s hard to know whether to rejoice at the flexibility and open-mindedness of our Children’s Minister, or to cry at the heightened levels of desperation evident in this latest offering.
What the government does next, will now be key. Will they choose to listen to established and entrenched voices inside the sector or will they be able to detect fresh, clear thinking on the ground? The ability to sort the wheat from the chaff will be integral to the success of this latest round of funding, which if misspent, would invoke the now all too familiar Black Hole Effect – money down the drain, with no tangible results.
So whilst Mr Timpson schmoozes the social work crew, whom he is skating on thin ice with at the moment in any event, we hope he will find dynamic and dedicated voices amongst them and not be led astray by profit margins. Those will come later.
The Children’s Minister and his aides will now need to home in on and detect the best in the biz, and set about creating a service which actually works.
And that, Mr Timpson, is where you are on your own.