Another year older, another year wiser. It may be the familiar
cliché trotted out in birthday cards but most of us would
agree that there’s nothing like age and experience to teach
us a lesson or two. Something that the young children’s trust
pathfinders are quickly discovering.
It seems like only yesterday that the 35 pathfinders came into
the world. In fact, a whole year has gone by – a third of their
intended life expectancy. During this time the Children Bill has
been published, with the government reiterating its desire for
children’s trusts to be set up. All areas are expected to
have one by 2008.
But exactly when children and families start to feel the
benefits could be a different matter. Children’s trust
managers promise that tangible changes to service delivery are on
their way, but say there are significant barriers that need to be
And tackling these could take some time. Toby Price,
Sutton’s children’s trust manager, says that at the
moment the pathfinder seems like “a lot of work in progress”. While
this may be acceptable, albeit frustrating, for those directly
involved in the trust’s development, the general public tends
not to be as philosophical – or patient.
“Being a children’s trust raises the profile of the
service, attracts interest and raises expectation on the service
now. But the changes aren’t immediate and it will be a while
before we see the benefits. The challenge is to manage the rise in
expectation without having significant new resources and services
in place to meet that expectation,” says Price.
Even though the Sutton trust is focused on small group –
disabled children – organisational hurdles have still cropped up.
Price says that there are certain boundary issues that need to be
“There are some professionals who work only with disabled
children and their families and it is straightforward to bring them
into the children’s trust. But a lot of professionals work
with disabled children and other children. How do we bring them in
without cutting them down the middle?” he asks.
Educational psychologists, community paediatricians, and speech
and language therapists are prime examples, he says, and debate is
going on about the extent to which they should be involved. One
solution is for them to continue to be line managed by their own
agency but for a service agreement to be drawn up setting out the
hours they dedicate to the trust.
A year on, many pathfinders are still finding professional
territoriality a problem. Despite a general consensus that
integrated working is the way forward, professionals are still
finding the change in mentality hard to accept. Gladys Rhodes is
the head of Blackburn with Darwen’s children’s trust.
She says: “People have worked for years in silos and with their
status and identity linked to a particular profession, whether
that’s health, education or social services. Bringing them
together and creating a new identity that is a children’s
trust, and not education, health or social services, is a
In her view, there cannot be too much communication with the
staff, who need to feel as though they are gaining rather than
losing out. Blackburn with Darwen’s trust focuses on early
years services, and includes the setting up of integrated
children’s centres. In a bid to make professionals feel more
like the integrated children’s workers that they are intended
to be, traditional job titles relating directly to health,
education and social services are being replaced by more general
ones such as “head of centre” and “early years worker”.
Rhodes has also found that it is essential that senior managers
“walk the talk”. This can mean being brave and taking chances.
“It means saying ‘I’m prepared to put my resources
in a pot and share them, which means I don’t have complete
control’. It’s safe and easy to deliver services in the
way they have always been. It’s more risky to say let’s
try and do this differently and share the power, responsibility and
accountability,” she says.
On a simpler level, the pathfinders are also discovering that
the various professional groups are still not speaking a common
language. In addition to the different terminology used,
interpretations can vary even for the basics of a service.
“What is an assessment? An assessment for a teacher is different
to that for a social worker which is different to the medical
profession,” says Chris Munday, children’s trust manager for
Tower Hamlets. “These are three types of separate organisations
operating in separate ways and trying to bring them together is not
He adds that there can even be a discrepancy over what
constitutes a year, in terms of running services. The way to
survive the various arguments, he says, is to keep coming back to
what is best for the children.
But what if there is objection to the very principle of
children’s trusts? Andrew Christie, director of Hammersmith
and Fulham’s children’s trust, says that a degree of
cynicism still prevails.
“A lot of what children’s trusts are about is not new in
itself. People have got plenty of experience of seeing bold
initiatives designed to join up services founder on the rocks of
organisational difficulty,” he says.
However, attitudes can change, and he says that he has been
encouraged by people’s enthusiasm once they realise the
changes are intended to transform the way services are delivered
and not just take place just at manager level.
Yet even getting the most reluctant members on side will do
little to improve the poor resources situation. The pathfinders
receive £60,000 per year for their three-year duration – a
small sum given the size of the task in hand. As Christie points
out, services are already struggling to make ends meet and do not
have any spare cash.
“We do not have the resources for new services and so we have to
reshape what we have got already while still keeping the basic
services going. You can’t relent on statementing, child
protection work or the care of looked-after children,” he says.
Staff may already be pushed to the max but, somehow, their time
needs to be freed up for children’s trust training purposes.
The managers have to be taught how to manage multidisciplinary
teams while front-line workers need to develop their skills so that
they can work alongside rather than apart from other
The first year has been a steep learning curve for those
involved in the children’s trust pathfinders. They say that
their very status as a pathfinder has awarded them the time and
opportunity to focus on what needs to be done to improve services.
It’s difficult to predict what state the pathfinders will be
in by the time they reach their second birthday. Yet at the current
pace of change it seems unlikely that they will have begun to
drastically impact on the lives of children.
Lessons learned during first year
- Change takes time.
- Staff are still reluctant to give up their professional
- Professionals are still not speaking the same language.
- Risks need to be taken.
- Don’t set up new things for the sake of it – develop what
you already have if appropriate.
- Being a children’s trust raises expectations.
- Senior managers need to set a good example.
- Efforts need to be made to get practitioners on board.
- Don’t be too ambitious – make changes gradually.
- Remember that the goal is better outcomes, not integration
- Always come back to what’s best for children.
- Talk and share ideas with others.