Clear thinking needed

The fact that 45 local authorities have expressed an interest in
piloting children’s trusts – despite the uncertainty surrounding
the future of children’s services, the vagueness of the children’s
trust model, and the lack of a national strategy or co-ordination
between government departments – is testament to their commitment
to improving children’s services.

It is also testament to the rightness of a vision that puts local
government at the centre of commissioning and planning for all
children and families. Unlike with care trusts, no one perspective
risks being sacrificed – a risk that undoubtedly faces social care
in the care trust model if it spreads to areas where inter-agency
relationships already lack respect and understanding.

Meanwhile, emerging findings from the development of the children’s
national service framework have set out standards for children’s
social care which simply cannot be argued with.

The problem is that while the Department of Health is developing
structures and service standards, mostly well received by those
running social care services, the strategy that should inform them
is still unclear – perhaps because the Children and Young People’s
Unit, created to lead national strategy, has been overtaken by
events and the ideas of individual government departments.

Meanwhile, there is still a chance that the green paper on children
at risk could make a belated return to ideas about a new, dedicated
child protection agency while under scrutiny at Number 10. If that
happened, the ideals about enabling children to move along a
spectrum of need and risk, which have inspired many of the
children’s trust bids, would be betrayed.

There is no doubt that this government is serious about improving
children’s lives. Much has already been achieved, both within
social care (Quality Protects and Sure Start being just two
examples) and outside it, in a process continued in last week’s

If the outcome makes sense, this period of confusion will be
forgiven. But the uncertainty is already damaging.

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