When it comes to children’s services, there is a sense that the
government, despite its best efforts, has not quite succeeded in
co-ordinating the initiatives that are pouring out from the centre,
writes Janet Snell.
The Department of Health, the Home Office, the children and young
people’s unit (CYPU), the family policy unit and the Treasury are
all beavering away, but whether the result will be a “joined-up”
agenda remains to be seen.
The CYPU is about to produce its strategy for children and young
people by the end of the year, while work on the children’s
national service framework is well under way and due early next
year. Young people’s minister John Denham has just announced six
“trailblazing” authorities that are to try out a new tracking
system for at-risk children. At the same time, the government is to
pilot new children’s trusts, bringing together social services,
education and elements of health.
Meanwhile, Lord Laming is still working on what is meant to be a
landmark report, pointing the way forward for children’s services
following the Victoria Climbie Inquiry.
The Climbie case has prompted calls for the government to strip
councils of their responsibility for child protection and instead
set up a national agency to take on the role.
Not surprisingly, this idea has met with almost universal
opposition from those working in social services children and
families teams, and the latest salvo in the battle of words comes
in a new report from an alliance of local government and health
‘Serving Children Well – A New Vision for Children’s Services’ is a
joint discussion document from the Local Government Association,
the Association of Directors of Social Services and the NHS
Confederation. It sets out the case against major structural change
and for a local solution building on existing local
The report is now out for consultation and it is hoped will form
the basis of a set of firm proposals for the future of children’s
services in time for the national social services conference in
Cardiff in October.
The paper points out that there has been substantial investment in
universal services for children along with large sums of cash
diverted to children who are vulnerable because of ill-health or
emotional or environmental deprivation. But because of the way
performance indicators from different government departments can
skew investment, this leaves substantial numbers of children
between these two groups vulnerable because of other reasons, yet
with no targeted services.
The report highlights other gaps in services and proposes revised
children’s strategic partnership boards reporting to local
strategic partnerships (LSPs), as well as the creation of
children’s champions to promote the interests of children and
scrutinise available services.
For Jane Held, co-chairperson of the ADSS children and families
committee and director of Camden social services in London, the
model proposed is both child-centred and logical. She says: “A
national debate has been needed for some time on this. If you talk
to practitioners the best way to protect kids is to invest in
universal and targeted services.
“But it is crucial to remember that child protection is at the
centre of working with kids. It is also everybody’s responsibility.
If you separate it out and give it to a new agency, it becomes
somebody else’s responsibility and that magnifies rather than
Jo Williams, director of social services for Cheshire and a member
of the Department of Health’s children’s task force, agrees: “I’m
not against new ways of working or people experimenting, but to
suggest a new national agency is going to be some sort of panacea
is quite wrong.
“We know from experience it ends up costing more money, it
displaces people, relationships break down, and there’s another ‘x’
number of children who miss out on a service while we try to sort
things out. That really isn’t good enough. Those children need us,
and they need us now.”
The report warns against “an obsession with service performance and
inputs” and urges instead that people focus on service outcomes,
citizens and communities.
Liz Kendall, associate director of the Institute for Public Policy
Research, says there is a strong case for keeping services under
the accountability of local government and points to new ways of
working, such as in Hertfordshire, where children and family
services are combined with education.
She says: “We need to focus less on what’s going to happen to
social services departments and more on asking what do we want to
achieve for children and what structures will best support
“Where structures do change, you still want to retain a strong
framework of democratic local accountability. But we mustn’t lose
sight of the fact that structural change in itself will not solve
the problem. It may seem a neat solution, but it’s not going to
prevent another case like Victoria Climbi’.”
Kendall rejects suggestions that the frenzy of activity around
children’s initiatives means the government has rejected the
Climbi’ Inquiry findings before Lord Laming has even finished
“I think the government will listen to Laming,” she says. “If they
decide they don’t support what he is going to suggest, that will be
a big surprise. I believe what’s happened is that government
departments have had to come up with new ideas because the spending
review was due and that is when crucial decisions are made. It’s
just not possible to say we must wait until Laming comes
Kendall believes the idea of separating out child protection into a
new national body is losing ground among those at the top, and adds
that there is merit in the argument that the future lies, as A New
‘Vision for Children’s Services’ suggests, within the LSP
“I think it’s something the government will look at,” she says.
“But first they need to formulate a coherent idea of what they are
trying to achieve with children’s policy. It’s all very well for
government to call for more co-ordination locally, but it has to be
said there seems little evidence of that at a national
‘Serving Children Well – A New Vision for Children’s Services’ from
An outcomes-based approach moving away from bureaucratic
A unified performance management system
A universal child indicator enabling agencies to identify children
by a shared set of priorities
A single assessment system with a shared approach to assessing and
recording need, and a shared multi-agency in-basket
Involvement of children, for example a children’s parliament
A co-ordinated workforce plan to prevent staff leaving core
services to move on to new initiatives