Ask people working in the social care sector what they think of the
children’s green paper and most will say they support the
government’s commitment to children and young people and its vision
for the services delivered to them.
However, as the deadline for the consultation on Every Child
Matters approaches on 1 December, it is becoming clear that
many child care organisations have major doubts about its
proposals. Community Care has gauged views to find out
what issues agencies will be flagging up to the government in their
The agenda for children and pace of change
For some groups, the green paper’s flaws are fundamental.
Lisa Payne, principal policy officer at the National Children’s
Bureau, describes the three-tier model that underpins the paper –
universal services for all children, support services for children
at risk and targeted services for those in the child protection
system – “as like three jigsaw puzzles that are trying to be put
While Payne supports the establishment of the five broad outcomes
against which all services will be judged, she believes the
government hasn’t thought through how the three tiers of services
will meet these. She also argues it is a “significant
disappointment” that the Children and Young People Unit’s
overarching strategy for children was not published, giving more
substance to the outcomes-based approach.
Meanwhile, Liz Garrett, Barnardo’s head of policy, says the
proposals fail to take into account disabled children, refugee
children and those in trouble. She is also concerned the government
is taking a punitive approach to children.
“The whole tone of the youth justice paper [published with the
green paper], when put alongside proposals in the Antisocial
Behaviour Bill, suggests there is a different set of principles,”
Helen Goody, senior project officer at the Local Government
Association, believes the paper over-emphasises structural changes
instead of focusing on outcomes.
Payne describes the government’s timescale for change as
“ludicrous”. Measures to introduce children’s trusts, children’s
services directors and information sharing are expected early next
year. Plans for a common assessment framework to assess children’s
needs are to be designed by March 2004 and introduced next
September. But these do not have “a hope in hell” of working in
that time period, she adds.
Integrating education, health and social
Two of the most controversial proposals are for every local
authority, by 2006, to appoint a director of children’s services
with statutory responsibility for children’s education and social
services; and to set up a children’s trust to oversee these
services, plus some community and acute health services too.
Fears that this could see the end of social services directors and
lead to education becoming the lead agency in children’s services
have led to criticism from the Association of Directors of Social
A statement from the National Union of Teachers says amalgamating
the chief education officer and director of social services roles
under a “one size fits all” approach could lead to responsibilities
specific to these posts becoming lost or confused. “The sensible
desire for greater integrationÉ must not be interpreted as
requiring a merger of education and children’s social
The green paper is surprisingly quiet on bringing children’s health
services into the mix, especially as Victoria Climbi’ was seen by
health professionals on several occasions. Connections are made
between poor health and the below-average academic performance of
the most vulnerable children.
However, Fiona Campbell, co-ordinator of the democratic health
network at the Local Government Information Unit, says this is too
narrow a view of children’s health.
“Improving children’s education is ultimately going to contribute
towards improving their health but there are other things that
impact on this,” she adds.
Goody agrees. She says the green paper is not ambitious enough in
its view of children’s well-being. Youth justice and the police are
mentioned “but not explicitly enough”.
“Housing and leisure services are crucial to the life chances of
children,” she adds.
Solicitor Chris Webb-Jenkins, of Browne Jacobson, which specialises
in public sector law, says that if the government is serious about
integrating health with education and social services then the new
children’s director will have to take on the statutory
responsibility for children’s health, including taking over the
budget from primary care trusts.
That the green paper is not prescriptive about what children’s
trusts will be expected to do – “there is no mention of them
inheriting duties from the NHS” – makes it difficult to know what
legal obligations children’s directors will have, says
Webb-Jenkins. He can see a situation “where a children’s trust
can’t provide a service because of a funding decision by the
primary care trust”.
The ADSS supports determining the shape of children’s trusts
locally, but calls for the government to exercise caution over this
“as yet untried model”. Integration can be achieved “without the
need to establish a separate trust body”.
Plans for a lead professional – whether they be a teacher, social
worker or housing officer – to be the co-ordinator of services for
individual children are given short shrift by groups in many
The British Association of Social Workers says it could lead to
education professionals or housing directors being given control,
while the NUT believes the lead professional should be a distinct
role and not added onto teachers’ existing responsibilities.
Baaf Adoption and Fostering says there is no recognition of the
impact on children of having the state as a continuous parent.
In its highly critical submission, Baaf calls for a separate policy
and funding stream for kinship care supported by performance
indicators, to encourage more councils to use it.
It calls for all councils to use the principles of concurrent
planning – where two different care plans are developed – for all
children who may not be able to return home. Baaf also believes
there is a need for a greater expansion of foster care recruitment
to meet the government’s ambitions.
One of the key questions has concerned how the changes are going to
be paid for. Last week an extra £100m specifically for
safeguarding children was announced. The new money will be
available from April. But many regard the extra cash as a fraction
of what is needed.
Others are concerned about a lack of ringfencing. The NUT
submission says: “The danger is that the removal of ringfencing
between education and social services funding streams will lead to
a lack of transparency and increase the possibility of both
services in different areas suffering a loss of funds.”
The ADSS supports the idea of rationalising funding streams, and
calls for a joint agency approach to commissioning services, but
says this alone will not reduce costs.
Children’s minister Margaret Hodge believes any extra spending will
be offset by savings.
Improving the pay and support for the children’s workforce should
be one of the first proposals introduced according to the ADSS. It
adds: “Routes into social work need to be both graduate- and
career-based and should be accessible to child care workers as one
of the professional alternatives from a common baseline
The Fostering Network says the green paper continues to view foster
carers as volunteers rather than professionals. The network’s
submission pinpoints the failure of the green paper to deal with
allowances for fostered children, payments for their carers and
Vicki Swain, campaign manager at the Fostering Network, describes
the green paper as a missed opportunity. “The government wants to
recruit more foster carers, and says it is looking for ‘radical and
imaginative’ ways to achieve this. Yet the most obvious way –
ensuring foster carers are properly supported, financially and
practically – has not been considered.”