Proposals that owe so much to fantasy

The green paper, Every Child Matters, is a passport to a
strange, topsy-turvy world that has echoes of Alice in
. Nothing is quite what it seems.

At the annual National Social Services Conference in Brighton, last
week, Charles Clarke, the education minister, for instance,
elaborated further on his definition of “extensive

The consultation period on proposals that will lead to the most
radical overhaul of children’s services in 30 years ends in
December. However, Clarke told the conference that the Queen’s
Speech next month, will include “a short bill to deal some of the
headline issues”. In New Labour speak, it transpires, “consult”
actually translates into “we’ll take the major decisions while you
talk among yourselves”.

Clarke also insisted that services should be the possession of the
users, rather than those who run them – by which it rapidly emerged
that he meant the adult users.

One of the many flaws of the green paper is that it lacks a
philosophy. It talks the talk – valuing children – but it backs
away from acknowledging that the first principle is to empower the
young by working with them, not for them.

In our Alice in Wonderland world, co-ordinated services
are urged to intervene early – without any public debate about what
raises cause for concern. To which criteria are professionals
expected to refer? A “bad” upbringing should be easy to identify if
good practice is in place but too often, of course, it isn’t. Yet
what constitutes a “good enough” childhood?

At present, when the moral, spiritual and material well-being of
all children is being corroded by the culture and attitudes in
which they live – where does a professional begin? If the
government is seriously determined to improve the quality of all
young lives, it has to demand much greater restraint on the part of
the media and the marketplace. The commodification and
sexualisation of the young impoverishes their well-being just as
surely as the lack of a decent income and the absence of

Clarke also said there had been a debate among his colleagues about
whether a commissioner for children was necessary – would it not
add another layer of bureaucracy? That comment alone reveals so
much about the centralised, authoritarian, conservative thinking
that embodies this government’s fear of children and young

The green paper has the gloss of progress, but its roots lie in the

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