Andrew Cozens examines how councils are progressing with the children’s services agenda
The Improvement and Development Agency’s (IDeA) recent stocktake on children’s services development and reorganisation
after the Children Act 2004 has revealed that significant changes have been initiated but it will take years for local authorities and service users to see some of the effects. Councils are confident, however, that the changes started will have profound effects on both service users and providers. Young people, local authorities and their service provider partners are already benefiting from some of the changes.
Every Child Matters provides councils with a clear set of objectives and outcomes for children. Most local authorities are delivering improved children’s services and are making progress towards the outcomes. But is there still too much focus on the structures and mechanisms rather than real outcomes for young people? Early joint area reviews of children’s services and the IDeA’s stocktake seem to be revealing more activity in the structure and means of delivering services.
Change management was a key issue to the authorities that participated. Many councils said that the changes being made were significant and would take years to embed. However, others were concerned that reassuring staff that changes were minimal would contradict findings that frontline staff were ready for change and could also lull managers and front-line staff into believing that Every Child Matters was not about fundamental changes.
Authorities are appointing change managers and change teams to create new plans. While all authorities were concerned that implementing the changes might increase risk for children, few had any formal risk assessment in place. Local authorities need to consult with children, young people and their families to prepare a children and young people’s plan. Authorities have made imaginative and effective forays into consulting their service user groups. One authority managed to canvass 10 per cent of their whole population of five to 10-year-olds. But most councils consulted better with older children than under-fives.
Most authorities also reported difficulty in finding ways to continually consult service users or to get them to comment regularly on the delivery of services and their needs and expectations. The involvement of councils was often omitted and nearly all the authorities considered that they still had to improve their local providers’ audits and directories.
Local authorities and partners used a range of approaches to create a shared vision for the children and young people plan. Most tried to base their vision statement on what they had heard in consultation from children, young people and their families. Senior members often knew about vision statements but many middle managers and front-line staff either did not understand or know about the vision statements.
To help staff, it was suggested that each children’s trust identify a few key statements that everyone could easily become familiar with. These statements could be suitable for posters, publications and other publicity material. This could also ensure that service users of all ages would be familiar with what services were available and how to access them.
Partnership working is challenging to all parts of local authority service provision, particularly regarding involvement and participation. The stocktake survey found the participating councils were making good progress but running into problems such as with service level agreements and financial issues. Councils also had problems with partners in Every Child Matters, such as schools and district councils, and there was under-representation from private organisations, such as sports clubs.
Although councils are consulting children and young people, they were failing to involve them in participation. However, some partnerships were looking to build on youth parliament elections and activities and hoped to encourage schoolchildren and young people through school councils. Most councils accepted that a regular engagement strategy for children, young people and their families was an important next step.
Leadership can contribute to partnership problems because partners, such as schools and health providers, are hesitant to risk control of services, financial contributions and budget alignment. There was evidence of an issue regarding the balance between leadership and direction in the role of directors of children’s services. Children’s services authorities are ultimately responsible for ensuring that implementation of Every Child Matters is effective but other partners felt that the term “children’s services” related to specific council services rather than any integrated services developed in partnership.
Improvement in communication is needed as many authorities did not have a formalised communications strategy for partners. Some innovative ideas were being developed, including the use of websites and electronic voting devices, but no partnership believed that it had solved the communications issue.
Recommendations include that each partnership gives more effort to establishing clear timelines for key developments to take place, to make greater use of staff at all levels, to communicate key developments to their peers and to involve children and young people in communications activities with their peers.
Authorities and partnerships are still discussing what new integrated services will look like at a local level. Accountability and decision-making roles will have to be determined. Where partnerships had already given time and effort to delineating roles and responsibilities of key staff, there was better understanding among staff about new ways of integrated working. Although there are concerns about how to appoint staff in new posts, staff in all partnerships wanted clarification of roles and responsibilities quickly to avoid compromising service delivery.
There has been progress on planning and appointing staff to new integrated service posts, but much still needs to be done to create the best structures for service delivery, partnership working, communications and workforce development. Beyond these structural issues, there is still work to be done on the delivery of the five Every Child Matters outcomes.
It is clear that children’s services authorities are taking seriously their responsibility to make every child matter. It is hoped that, by developing their structures and delivery mechanisms, they will be able to better engage with their partners and make real improvements. The IDeA will continue to offer advice and support to help all councils and their partners deliver on the ground the ambition underlying their strategic intent.
ANDREW COZENS is strategic adviser for children’s, adults’ and health services at the Improvement and Development Agency. Before that he was corporate director of social care and health for Leicester Council. He was president of the Association of Directors of Social Services in 2004-5. He is an adviser to the Local Government Association and to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on social care and health matters.
TRAINING AND LEARNING
The author has provided questions about this article to guide discussion in teams. These can be viewed at www.communitycare.co.uk/prtl and individuals’ learning from the discussion can be registered on a free, password-protected
training log held on the site. This is a service from Community Care for all GSCC-registered professionals.
This article examines the progress made by children’s services authorities following the restructure of social services towards meeting the five outcomes of Every Child Matters. A recent stocktake of children’s services has revealed that, although
progress was being made, most of it was based on the mechanics of integrating services and there was little improvement to children and young people’s services.
ABOUT THE RESEARCH
The stocktake was carried out through a survey of local authorities and their partners in children and young people’s services.
The questions were grouped under the same sections used in all IDeA stocktakes in 2005-6. Various issues were examined and show areas for improvement and development.
This article appeared on pages 38 & 39 of the 12 October issue, under the headline Pieces begin to fit