Trailblazing an initiative may bestow a certain prestige on
those concerned but implementing the Children’s Fund in a place
such as Leeds was a task as huge as the local authority
Leeds is England’s second largest urban local authority. It is so
big that, for administrative convenience, it is divided into five
“wedges”, based on the primary care trusts and coterminous with
social services areas. Leeds Children’s Fund used indices of need
to allocate a notional budget to each wedge, while promoting themed
areas of work city-wide. These included work with children affected
by homelessness, refugee and asylum-seeking children and young
Four of the five wedges responded quickly and positively to the
arrival of the fund. Several imaginative proposals were jointly
submitted, usually by voluntary organisations working alongside
schools and other agencies, most of which were formally
commissioned by the fund. Most of these projects aim to support
families, with a view to improving school attendance and
achievement, children’s health and the accessibility of and
response to services. In the fifth wedge, however, proposals proved
slow to materialise – despite unquestionable need – for two main
First, considerable social and demographic change over the previous
20 years had brought greater ethnic diversity and the arrival of
large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers. But there had also
been a sharp rise in drug and alcohol use, with associated family
problems and deprivation. Faced with these changes, agencies were
finding it increasingly difficult to meet service demands.
Second, despite the existence of some established voluntary
organisations, all interested in working collaboratively, none had
the capacity to expand and take on new work. This was not least
because they had been fully involved in other initiatives such as
Sure Start which had left them with little energy to engage with
the fund. It seemed that the area with arguably the most unmet need
for the fund was going to benefit least.
In response, Leeds Children’s Fund commissioned one of the larger
local voluntary organisations to undertake some work in the area,
to assess what was needed to meet fund objectives for children and
young people and to identify areas of work that needed to be
developed. The draft proposals were presented at an inter-agency
meeting and organisations were invited to lead different aspects of
the work. The result of this exercise has been interesting and
instructive – and has used the existing knowledge and local
experience of different agencies to good effect.
Under the tiered model of prevention, tier one focuses on providing
diversionary activities before identifying problems. At this level,
in Leeds a community organisation will deliver play activities and
resources. Other city-wide tier one work includes supporting
breakfast clubs and initiating a family support directory.
At tier two – the level of early prevention – a scheme that matches
volunteers with school pupils who are struggling with literacy has
expanded and now targets children at risk of exclusion and those
from ethnic minorities. Another project has extended its work with
young carers into west Leeds and a family support service with a
reputation for good service delivery is also being offered by a
local voluntary organisation.
At tier three, funded projects target young people with more
deep-seated problems. These include young runaways and children
whose parents have drug or alcohol-related problems. Another
scheme, run by social services, will provide targeted work with
primary schoolchildren who are showing signs of antisocial
All work at tier four continues to be undertaken by those with the
traditional skills and expertise to do so, namely social services
and children’s charity NSPCC.
From a national Children’s Fund perspective, the benefits of this
more strategic approach to planning local services are threefold.
First, the process of developing proposals has served, in the
short-term at least, to build the capacity of small, local agencies
and larger voluntary organisations, each of which has expanded
their remit. Second, there is now a greater sense of inter-agency
co-operation and understanding. Organisations have developed mutual
respect through the partnerships that have emerged. Finally, there
is a sense of energy and optimism among the agencies concerned – a
sense that, despite the difficulties, positive change is
Importantly, agencies are now looking beyond the lifetime of the
Children’s Fund, and planning to continue to use the west Leeds
“forum” to address the needs of children of all ages and their
families. This is what the fund is and should be all about.
Liz Jeffery is Leeds Children’s Fund’s programme
development and inclusion officer. She can be contacted by e-mail
The Fund’s objectives
The Children’s Fund was heralded by chancellor Gordon Brown in
the 2000 comprehensive spending review.
The fund was seen as a means to develop and deliver services to
children aged five to 13 and their families, bridging the gap
between Sure Start and Connexions, and acting as a catalyst for
change in the way services were delivered. Although like Sure
Start the Children’s Fund will be rolled out gradually, it differs
in that it will eventually exist in all local authorities and will
cover the whole authority rather than just operating in areas of
At present the Children’s Fund appears less well known than Sure
Start, although as an agent for change its long-term potential is
probably just as great.
Each local authority is required to develop its own delivery
plan, according to local needs and circumstances. Central to the
fund’s philosophy are the twin themes of partnership and
participation – of children, young people and their carers – which
together inform the programme of services and ensure that these are
developed from as broad and well-informed a base as possible.
Partnership is seen as an essential component, with services
needing to be delivered by a mix of statutory and voluntary
agencies working together.
Leeds has the distinction of being one of the fund’s trailblazer
authorities, having had a programme in place since 2001.
In the increasingly uncertain context in which social services
departments operate, it is important that social workers understand
what the Children’s Fund is trying to achieve and how they can
successfully work in partnership with it.