Implementation of the Children Act 2004 carries real threats for
the voluntary sector, experts have warned.
Despite the act’s positive aspects, including its emphasis
on preventive work, there are fears its focus on structural
reorganisation and education services could undo years of progress
in the voluntary sector’s role in shaping services.
Over the last seven years, initiatives such as Sure Start and
the Children’s Fund have allowed voluntary organisations to
expand dramatically and to play a much greater role in the design
as well as the delivery of services.
But speaking at Community Care Live in London last
week, Family Welfare Association chief executive Helen Dent
questioned how much influence the voluntary sector would have
on future developments when very few organisations were being
involved in joint planning arrangements.
She described invitations to Councils for Voluntary Service to
sit on local planning forums as the “lazy option”,
adding that it was not their role to understand children’s
“I think there’s a lot of evidence that we are
slipping back into the age of the statutory sector planning
services and the voluntary sector only being involved in
tendering,” she warned.
Dent also highlighted the lack of experience education services
had in working with the voluntary sector: “After 20 years,
the voluntary sector and social services understand each other and
respect each other’s roles. But education has very little
experience working with the voluntary sector – and even less
She warned that, if local government was starved of cash as a
result of structural change and efficiency savings, voluntary
sector organisations would suffer and Sure Start and
Children’s Fund services would be cut.
“It is inevitable that we will start to lose cash to fund
all this. We will end up with a lot of voluntary organisations
going bankrupt and belly up. The rest of us will struggle. This is
a huge issue.”
Caroline Abrahams, director of public policy at children’s
charity NCH, echoed Dent’s concerns about the survival of
– particularly smaller – voluntary organisations as
reforms are implemented.
She challenged the government to help the voluntary and
statutory services to work together and to watch carefully how
changes panned out. “If it looks like the voluntary sector is
being blown out, please respond,” Abrahams urged.