The government’s overhaul of children’s services stemmed from Lord Laming’s inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie. The key message to come out of Laming’s inquiry report was the need to improve accountability; and the need for better communication and joint working between agencies involved with children and young people.
Alongside the government’s response to his inquiry report, it also published the green paper Every Child Matters which led to the Children Act 2004. Children’s trusts were one of the main initiatives to emerge from the new Children Act. Their aim is to ensure that all services for children and young people in one area are brought together to provide an integrated service for children. Children’s trusts are partnerships between different services which provide, commission or are involved in delivering better outcomes for children and young people.
Most local authorities should have a children’s trust by 2006 and all areas are expected to have one by 2008. Although there is no statutory requirement for councils to set up a trust, the government has made it clear that their services will be inspected on the basis of a degree of joint working and partnership only possible under such an arrangement. Joint inspections by Ofsted, the Health Care Commission and other inspectorates will determine how well local services are co-operating.
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Local authorities don’t have to call their way of working together a children’s trust, but they have to show that there are integrated working arrangements in place from the planning of services to their delivery, and that the aim is to improve outcomes.
These working arrangements are expected to include: co-located services, such as children’s centres and extended schools; multi-disciplinary teams; a common assessment framework; information-sharing systems; joint training and effective arrangements for safeguarding children.
Every area must have a children and young people’s plan by April 2006 and this will form the basis of the children’s trust’s approach to service delivery. Key services that should be included in a trust are: the local education authority (extended schools may be commissioned by children’s trusts to deliver integrated services, co-located on the school site); children’s social services; community and acute health services; primary care trusts and strategic health authorities. Youth offending teams and Connexions services can also be involved, as can local voluntary and community organisations.
The director of children’s services will be accountable for the services provided by the children’s trust and the lead member for children will be politically accountable.
In July 2003 the government announced 35 pathfinder children’s trusts, these were:
• Blackburn with Darwen
• Brighton and Hove
• City of York
• East Yorkshire
• Hammersmith and Fulham
• North Lincolnshire
• South Tyneside
• Telford and Wrekin
• Tower Hamlets
• West Sussex
A three-year, independent, national evaluation of children’s trusts is being carried out by the University of East Anglia and children’s charity NCB. The evaluation of the first phase of the pathfinders, entitled Realising Children’s Trust Arrangements, was published by the Department for Education and Skills in September 2005. The final report is due in April 2007. The evaluation started with a study of all 35 pathfinders, and is now focusing in-depth on 11 trusts, though not all are pathfinders.
There are three children’s trusts co-ordinators to help identify good practice. Lyn Frith is responsible for the Midlands, east and south west regions. Hilary Ellam is responsible for the North and Yorkshire and Humber. Andrew Turnbull is responsible for London and the South East.
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