While many of us tuned in over Christmas to watch Richard
Attenborough lead Steve McQueen and friends in their Great Escape
from a prisoner of war camp, chief secretary to the Treasury Paul
Boateng was busy masterminding a daring plan of his own,
writes Lauren Revans.
Armed with the Institute for Public Policy Research’s report ‘From
Welfare to Wellbeing: The Future of Social Care’,1
Boateng is understood to have spent the break familiarising himself
with the think-tank’s proposals for a national child protection
According to the report, “a new service dedicated to safeguarding
children” should be created which is controlled locally but
overseen by a national body setting national standards and
accountable to central government.
“This could help ensure that child protection becomes the
responsibility of all relevant agencies, rather than solely that of
social services,” the report states. “It could also help remove
families’ uncertainties about whether social services are
investigating them or supporting them.”
The significance of Boateng’s choice of Christmas reading material
is this: as well as being apparently pre-disposed to disliking
social services departments, he is also the chairperson of the
Cabinet subcommittee responsible for drawing up the green paper on
children at risk, now also likely to be influenced by Lord Laming’s
report on the Victoria Climbi’ Inquiry.
Lord Laming’s report into the case was handed to health secretary
Alan Milburn and minister for children and young people John Denham
last week and is expected to be published soon alongside the
government’s initial reactions. The green paper and the
government’s full response will probably follow in the
But since the green paper was announced in October, the focus has
been on early intervention and prevention, not crisis-led child
protection. It has also been linked to children’s trusts, the new
models of management for children’s services put forward in the
children-at-risk cross-cutting review.
Although child protection is one of seven options suggested on the
Department of Health website as a possible service to be
commissioned or provided by children’s trusts, its inclusion is far
As a result, some trusts will provide child protection services,
many will not, and others will commission them from non
profit-making companies. Meanwhile, the traditional home of child
protection services will disappear as Milburn pushes on with his
plans to eradicate the “old monolithic single social services
It is not impossible to see then why Boateng might recommend a
national child protection agency to co-ordinate and standardise the
types of organisation likely to spring up to deliver child
protection services locally.
The fact that the government’s adviser with responsibility for
children’s services, Denise Platt, and the minister for social
care, Jacqui Smith, have rejected any such plan is of little
consequence if the decision no longer rests with them.
Equally, the fact that the Association of Directors of Social
Services has been both opposed to the idea of a national agency
from the start and insistent that it is not even a realistic option
offers little in the way of reassurance.
“The notion that we can leave [responsibility for children in care]
to social services is fanciful,” Boateng told Community Care when
he was at the Home Office.
Surely it is possible that this man, who also accused social
services departments of letting down children “year and year and
year upon year”, might use the opportunity of responding to a major
child protection inquiry to introduce a radical model of child
protection – despite what everyone else thinks.
1 Institute for Public Policy Research, From Welfare to
Wellbeing: The Future of Social Care, IPPROctober 2002