A crying shame

I cried on 15 December – the second time in I have been reduced
to tears by my job. The last time it happened was 10 years ago in
the office of a hostel for homeless young people where I was a
project worker. I’d been sitting with a distraught young
woman of 16 who was on the phone to her mum, pleading with her to
let her visit at Christmas. Mum said no.

This time my tears time were the result of a decision to cut
some of our funding. They were tears of weariness, frustration and
anger at having to unpick promises and expectations again. The
Children’s Fund made a real difference to children and
children are going to be hurt by these cuts.

Like Children’s Fund (CF) partnerships across the country
we received our mid year review results in December. Under the
review, the actual spend in the first six months of the year had
been compared with the budget submitted at the beginning of the
year, with the threat that if projects had not spent the predicted
sums in time, their funds could be clawed back by the

We submitted a business case for each project that has
underspent by the crucial date, explaining why they should still
get their money. The cases we put forward were rejected.

We have more than 80 service providers in our area. Some have
managed to develop the services we asked for quickly. In others
there have been spending delays, not least because we are
developing services unlike anything seen before. Good quality and
well-planned early preventive services don’t appear
overnight, as Sure Start schemes have found.

Margaret Hodge and Tom Jeffery have now admitted that things
have not been handled well and it is reassuring that the government
is starting to own some of the difficulties. The CF seems to have
lacked strategic direction for some time. Heralded as the meat in a
Sure Start and Connexions sandwich, it has never developed a clear
identity and is now suffering the consequences.

The drift and confusion was apparent to most CF managers more
than a year ago. The decision that identification, referral and
tracking would be led by CF partnerships (soon reversed) followed
by the news that 25 per cent of funding from April 2003 had to be
spent on anti-crime initiatives approved by the Youth Justice Board
and Children and Young People’s Unit were the first signs
that the government did not have a clear picture of what it

Both announcements were unexpected and the latter led to a major
redrawing of plans generating massive financial and planning
headaches. By mid-year 2003 there was a change of financial rules.
The CYPU seemed determined to take more control centrally, but
decisions were taking longer to come through. The regional CF teams
were being edged out and seem as surprised as us at the ever-moving
goal posts. By marginalising regional input, the centre was making
decisions on a “one-size fits all” basis that does no justice to
the original CF principle of local determination and

It is interesting to compare and contrast the fortunes and image
of Sure Start and the CF. The CF feels a bit like the ugly mate at
the school disco to Sure Start’s general gorgeousness.
Crucially it has had a vision and ownership at the highest level of
government from the beginning. You can see where it is heading and
who is running it. This has protected it from the sort of
uncertainty afflicting the CF now.

Of course change is essential if the Children’s Fund
values are to be embedded in the mainstream, but the current
uncertainty jeopardises everything. Commitment and confidence are
evaporating. Service providers are one day going to briefings on
the new vision for children’s services and the next getting
letters saying their funds are to be cut.

The vision embodied in the green paper Every Child
depends on a healthy supply of child-centred
preventive services across sectors. If the government is genuine in
its aspirations for children’s services then it needs to act
fast to shore up the failing credibility and damage caused by the
continued uncertainty around the Children’s Fund.

This article was submitted anonymously

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