Private security giants such as G4S and Serco could be put in charge of child protection services under new proposals drawn up by the government.
In papers published by the Department of Education last month, the government is proposing to permit outsourcing of children’s social services in England to ease the burden on local authorities.
They say the plans will allow authorities to “stimulate new approaches to securing improvements” and “harness third-party expertise”.
Campaigners have voiced strong opposition to the plans, which they say could distort decisions on sensitive family matters.
G4S is currently being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) for "serious issues" in connection with “invoicing, delivery and performance reporting” on contracts worth almost £4 billion as well as overcharging taxpayer for botched tagging contracts.
The firm suffered severe damage to its reputation after its failure to fulfil its contract to provide enough security staff for the 2012 London Olympics, forcing the Government to draft in members of the armed forces at short notice.
Professor Eileen Munro, who carried out an independent review of child protection for Michael Gove in 2011, said the proposals were “a bad idea”.
"It's the state's responsibility to protect people from maltreatment. It should not be delegated to a profit-making organisation,” she said.
Critics have cited the track record of companies such as G4S and Serco as evidence of the danger of introducing profit motive to vital public services.
G4S was recently fined for overcharging on a contract to tag offenders, and Serco was rapped for manipulating its results for outsourcing NHS family doctor services.
According to latest estimates, around 68,000 children were in the child care system in England in 2013, with 43,000 on child protection registers.
Kathy Evans, chief executive of the Children England charity, has hit out at plans to outsource vital services to private providers.
"Michael Gove must ensure that no commercial company and its shareholders should ever be able to make profit from public spending on child protection,” she told The Guardian.
“Such an important public function must never be open to the real, or even perceived, risk of being done in the pursuit of profit.”
A spokeswoman for the NSPCC, Britain’s largest child protection charity, said the question was about “how good a service is at turning children’s lives around.
Its director of strategy, Lisa Harker, said the charity was “still looking at the detail to see if there are sufficient checks and balances around service quality”.
A spokesman for the Department of Education said there was “no obligation for councils councils to take up these freedoms and any that do will still be held accountable by Ofsted.”