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Care leaver Mark Houston gives his take on the practice implications of the green paper

I believe it is a radical paper which clearly describes the ways in which children in care are disadvantaged. I doubt that any care leavers would disagree with the priorities and proposals.

It would appear that local authorities have interpreted current laws differently, meaning that they have not always been
exercising their corporate parenting responsibilities effectively. In light of this, I welcome the extra reinforcement from the government.

There have been concerns among social work professionals that in structuring children’s services around the Every Child
agenda, we risk marginalising the more vulnerable children and families. It is encouraging that the government is
planning to make commitments to tackle that potential risk.

I do have some concerns regarding the implementation of the green paper proposals and believe the government is being a little over-optimistic. Various pieces of previous legislation and government guidance have led to attempts to put many of the main principles into practice. However, there seem to be some fundamental barriers to their local implementation.

Financial constraints and local autonomy of other key partners have had a considerable impact. It is important to bear in mind that several factors influencing the lives of children in care (such as the range of appropriate services) are not directly controlled by local authorities.

The plan to draw clearer lines of accountability for agencies outside the local authority does sound optimistic and I would certainly welcome more leverage on other key stakeholders.

The focus on prevention is crucial. Although preventive strategies are promoted through Every Child Matters, it is still very welcoming to see this reinforced. It helps to focus local authorities’ attention on providing additional support to those genuinely at risk, rather than just building up universal capacity (which is where preventive services can sometimes become “swallowed up”).

The issue of children not receiving enough support from their social workers is key. Most social workers have always wanted to spend more time with their clients and I believe the hearts and minds of social work managers have already been won. Yet with the current high vacancy rates and restricted budgets, it would be unrealistic to expect 24/7 access to social workers soon.

Overall, I wholeheartedly welcome the paper, but I want to see more detail on how it could be delivered.


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