Children’s sector leaders are sceptical about plans to strengthen children’s trusts, warning any new legislation could disrupt services and alienate partners.
However, local government and voluntary sector leaders have said there is a case for tightening duties on schools to engage with partnerships.
In the draft Queen’s Speech last month, the government unveiled plans to strengthen trusts, in particular to improve outcomes for children with extra needs.
This followed the publication of guidance on trusts, under the Children Act 2004, designed to bring all children’s partnerships up to the standards of the best and achieve a “step change” in the involvement of schools.
Cultural change not legislation
Campaigners and local government bodies have responded to the plans by stating that cultural change to boost partnership working, not legislation, was the way forward.
National Children’s Bureau chief executive Paul Ennals said: “We don’t want wholesale change of legislation. That could bring a lot of disruption.”
Local Government Association programme director for children and young people Caroline Abrahams said legislation “could have unintended consequences by alienating some agencies, making it harder for councils to build stronger relationships with them”.
Professor David Hawker, chair of the standards, performance and inspection committee at the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said the association believed “most of the legislative basis for children’s trusts” was in place, through the Children Act.
However, Ennals and Hawker said there was a case for adding forums to the list of agencies bound by the duty to co-operate to safeguard and promote children’s well-being, under the Children Act. Forums are local partnerships of schools who help decide the distribution of schools funding locally, in partnership with councils.
Abrahams said any LGA support for legislation applied only to extending the duty to co-operate directly to schools, including academies, who are exempt from legislation applying to other schools.
Children’s trusts have no legislative status, but according to the government “refer to the totality of change needed to deliver better and more responsive integrated services”, under the Children Act. Some agencies – councils, primary care trusts, youth offending teams, the chief of police and the probation service – are bound by the act’s duty to co-operate. Others, including schools and GPs, are expected to contribute but are not bound to.