Three years after the government announced its plan to merge
children’s social care and education departments, most councils are
well on their way to appointing directors of the combined
One already in place is John Coughlan, Hampshire’s first
director of children’s services. Previously corporate director of
social services at Telford & Wrekin Council, it is his first
time in a joint role.
With the children’s green paper, the Children Act 2004 and
guidance on information-sharing and local safeguarding boards,
children’s services professionals have faced many changes in recent
Although there is a high level of expertise among children’s
services staff in Hampshire, Coughlan says the authority, like many
others, has a big task ahead of it to build the partnerships
required by the Every Child Matters agenda.
Such partnerships need cultural change among staff and a
willingness to embrace working with other services.
To Coughlan this involves letting people work together in ways
that they could not before and allowing them to share their
“You can’t overestimate how big a job that [cultural change] is
but also we should recognise that there is a great number of
opportunities to make that work,” he says.
He is optimistic that, as children’s services professionals are
united by their commitment to children, it follows that they should
be able to work together towards this shared goal.
As one of the pathfinder areas, Hampshire has an established
children’s trust which focuses on child and adolescent mental
health services. Coughlan says it is a successful initiative and
that the council will now take some of the lessons it has learned
into other parts of children’s services.
He argues that children’s trusts cannot be fixed models, as they
must be responsive to the needs of the community and front-line
“When people say children’s trusts some people think of fixed
terms, but the children’s services world is never going to be as
simple as that.”
Children’s services directors face a steep learning curve and
Coughlan sees their biggest challenge as forging links with
schools. He says: “The greatest test, which is also the single most
exciting opportunity, is the way we work with schools and bring
them into this agenda.”
For this to happen, he says, social care staff must understand
the pressures schools are under from the standards agenda and their
responsibility to all their pupils. Equally, education
professionals must appreciate that the needs of a vulnerable child
cannot be sacrificed for those of the greater community.
It is easy to see how these tensions can come into play. One can
imagine parents putting pressure on a head teacher not to readmit
an excluded pupil while a social worker tries to get them back into
Coughlan is also the chair of the Association of Directors of
Social Services’ children and families committee and will soon be
vice-president of the organisation.
He explains how the ADSS’s priorities include continuing to
lobby the government for more funding for the children’s services
agenda and ensuring that the merger of children’s social services
with education maintains the link between children’s and adult’s
social services. “We have to make sure we don’t develop a new
silo,” he says.