How not to serve our children well

It is welcome news that in the green paper Every Child
the government has adopted the key principles of
Serving Children Well, the Local Government
Association-led vision for children’s services. These include a
strategy for all children, a single assessment process and the
integration of health, education and social services.

But local government and other key agencies have concerns about the
green paper’s prescriptive proposal requiring authorities to
appoint a new post, director of children’s services, to oversee
education and children’s social services.

The LGA has been calling for a designated lead member and named
senior officer to be accountable for children’s services so that it
is clear where the buck stops. This is in line with a key
recommendation in the Victoria Climbie Report that “the single most
important change in the future must be the drawing of a clear line
of accountability, from top to bottom.” But councils must have
discretion and freedom to decide which senior officer is
accountable for children’s services, according to the local

Moreover, a director of children’s services post, which oversees
education and social services, is likely to lead to the merging of
these two departments. Enforcing structural changes of this nature
will serve only to undermine years of good work. The 36 councils
piloting Serving Children Well have found that the most
effective way to improve services is to build on what is already
working well. They have also shown that improving joint working
between agencies relies on deep-rooted cultural change based on
widespread understanding of the need to better integrate services
by everyone involved. These cultural changes, together with
existing good practice, must be the foundation upon which
structural changes are built. An enforced shake-up risks losing
everything that is already working well at the expense of the
provision of services for vulnerable children.

We and our colleagues from the key agencies and the voluntary
sector will resist moves for a director of children’s services to
be appointed in every authority, and any changes involving this
degree of prescription at a local level. We will fight to persuade
the government of the case for local services to be shaped
according to the needs of children, their families and

Alison King is chairperson of the Local Government
Association’s health and social affairs executive.

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