THE creation of a national care service could have "very significant and negative unintended consequences", including on child protection, local government leaders have warned.

Solace, an umbrella body for local government and public sector professionals, said proposals to centralise responsibility for children and families social work away from councils and into the Scotland's new National Care Service (NCS) "is likely to create greater complexity than it would resolve".

There is particular concern that it could lead to cases of neglect or sexual and criminal exploitation of young people being missed if education and social work services are no longer operating under the same roof.

The pandemic was being used to justify "a largely unrelated but fundamental change", said Solace.

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In a response to the Scottish Government's consultation on the NCS - which is expected to be in place by 2026 - Solace said there was a "much more significant relationship between the universal education services and children with social work supervision or care support than there is with healthcare" and that "moving responsibility for children’s services to a National Care Service disrupts and potentially undermines the effective work already underway to improve outcomes for children and young people".

A spokesman added: “The creation of a national care service is such a huge undertaking, creating such major structural change, that some negative unintended consequences are inevitable.

“We want to help the Scottish Government avoid those unintended consequences using our experience on the ground. One of these is in the area of adult, child and other public protection.

“In child protection, for instance, the link between education and social work is absolutely critical, because it plays a crucial role in identifying sexual and criminal exploitation of young people.

"The structural boundary imposed by a national care service could put this highly complex service delivery at considerable risk.”

While much of the focus of has been overhauling the delivery of social care for the elderly in the wake of the pandemic, the consultation states that the Scottish Government wants to incorporate children's social work into the NCS because it is "currently fragmented across different public bodies in different integration arrangements" and doing will enable service to become "more cohesive" with accountability to a single body.

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The consultation stresses that the NCS must "retain and strengthen the existing links" with education, early learning, and childcare, adding: "The overarching purpose will be to ensure consistent delivery of services to the most vulnerable children and families".

In his foreword to the consultation, Kevin Stewart, minister for mental wellbeing and social care, said the overall aim of the reforms is to shift social care from a "crisis intervention" to one which supports people "at the earliest stage, preventing deterioration and people getting into crisis situations".

However, Solace said many of the proposed improvements to adult social care could be delivered "more quickly, more effectively, and ultimately at lower cost through the proper resourcing and effective utilisation of existing structures".

It described how austerity following the 2008 financial downturn had squeezed the sector's budgets and staffing, forcing departments to ration care according to priority and leaving "very limited capacity to focus on lower tier preventative support".

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This had been "further compounded by short term funding settlements, increased ring-fencing, the introduction of a wide range of disconnected health and social care initiatives and duties and the absence of a clear long term national strategy for the wider sector", said Solace, with the organisation hitting back at the "wholly [inaccurate]" suggestion of the consultation that a lack of local leadership was to blame.

It added: "It is hugely disappointing that the Scottish Government views the only solution to address the failures as the introduction of a National Care Service and not the support for local government and [health and social care partnerships] so desperately needed to deliver the outcomes that all stakeholders want to see."

Solace also criticised "an absence of any detailed costing of the proposed service" and the "unnecessarily short" timescale - 12 weeks - of the consultation "at a time of unprecedented pressure on services".