Local authority councillors will soon have to decide how to respond
to the government’s plans for children’s services. They must work
out how best to create the requested clear lines of accountability
and how to integrate education and social services. For the moment,
councils are reacting in several ways.
Councils that have already brought education and social services
under the control of a single director are starting to think about
integrating other services, such as the NHS, while those
experimenting with children’s trusts or extended schools have
become cautious about the best way to proceed.
Some three-star authorities see no reason to disrupt their
high-performing services and strong partnerships with other
agencies. Others are waiting for more certainty, not wanting to
waste energy on development work only to find that government
guidance will set out the requirements after the children’s trust
and information-sharing pilots have been evaluated.
Then there is the “unbudgeable” band of ostriches, heads buried,
hoping it will all go away and that expectations will be
Finally there is a group which has rushed into structural changes
either because they always like to be the pioneers or because one
or more of the key directors have left.
No council can sit on its hands during this critical period: delay
can lead to inertia; uncertainty can lead to plummeting staff
morale and directionless services.
Every future children’s services authority should agree with their
key partners ways to integrate children’s services. If a decision
is made not to appoint a director of children’s services until
2006, education and social services directors must act together in
Establishing new commissioning arrangements will be fundamental to
the evolving services. Whether they are arrived at formally through
children’s trusts and pooled budgets, or by aligning budgets and
closely linking them to outcomes, it is vital that education,
health and social services quickly understand the approaches each
other takes and the overlaps that exist.
The Children Bill has clear objectives that will have a radical
impact on statutory and voluntary agencies. The time for
navel-gazing is over.
Andrew Cozens is president of the Association of Directors
of Social Services.