New minister for children Margaret Hodge now has her
“dream job”, and she approaches it with a belief she
has possessed for “years” that a division with children
as its core focus is the best way to co-ordinate services,
writes David Callaghan.
It is clear from hearing her describe the enthusiasm she has for
the post that she is a fervent supporter of the government’s
new policies to ensure children’s services and child
protection in particular work more efficiently.
Her background includes previous roles as chairperson of
Labour’s taskforce on policy for under-5s, and among her
ministerial responsibilities child care and nursery education have
Hodge’s boss, education secretary Charles Clarke, now has
overall responsibility as head of the department for education and
skills, for schools and education policy, with children’s
social services as a major new addition.
He believes the new structures represent “an historic
change”, putting policies for children under one roof for the
first time. Services that were spread across Whitehall departments
have now been brought together.
Sure Start, Connexions, the Children and Young People’s
Unit and children’s social services are to be brought
together, co-ordinated to begin with from a new children and
families directorate within the DfES before eventually being
physically located within the same department.
The way Sure Start works, liaising with different agencies such
as primary care trusts and local authorities and bringing together
the work of the DfES and the department for work and pensions, is
regarded as a model for the way the new children’s division
could operate on a larger scale.
Much of the detail of how the new structures will work, such as
how the DfES will interact with the Commission for Social Care
Inspection and the General Social Care Council, will be revealed in
the green paper, to be published before the House of Commons summer
recess on 17 July. But Clarke admits that structural changes will
be proposed to ensure inspection services and registration of
children’s social workers function effectively.
At a local level, schools must take the lead, he says. “We
do see schools as central to the provision of all services for
children,” he told a briefing for journalists on the new
Social workers may be based in some schools, he says.
“This is an evolution that might come.”
But Hodge stresses: “It is not the end of social
Beyond that Clarke will not say how services should fit
together, or at least not yet. The forthcoming green paper on
children will propose how schools should work with children’s
trusts and the remaining children’s services within local
authorities. Education welfare officers will also play an important
Both Clarke and Hodge speak with some force about the desperate
need to break down barriers between professions. Hodge, who is MP
for Barking, has already seen first hand how a social services
director of Barking and Dagenham council can also be chief
executive of the local primary care trust.
Pointing to a flaw in Seebohm’s vision of generic social
workers 35 years ago, Clarke says professionals should retain their
expertise, but work closely together to provide seamless services.
This emphasis is different to former health secretary Alan
Milburn’s speech at the annual social services conference
last year when he described hybrid social workers capable of many
disciplines within a client group.
He says children at risk are not identified as quickly as they
should be and is not slow to emphasise the consequences of failure
and acknowledge the influence of the Victoria Climbie case on the
decision to create a children’s division. “We have
genuine life and death responsibilities,” he says.
No-one would disagree with the basic principle of the
government’s changes. As Clarke says: “For the first
time in history the government has tried to organise services
around the needs of the child.”
But with so much still resting on the content of the green paper
it is difficult for the social care world to assess yet how this
Whitehall upheaval will measure up at a local level.