Since 2003 children’s and adults’ services have been led by their own directors. But some authorities are bucking the trend and putting all services under one supremo, writes David Callaghan
It is a famous quotation and it helped to cement Margaret Thatcher’s place in history as the ‘Iron Lady’ prime minister.
“You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning!” she told the Conservative Party conference in 1980 as the government was unable to halt a surge in unemployment.
A ‘u-turn’ of any kind usually has a negative connotation, and leaders and policy makers try to avoid that label even if it accurately describes what they are doing.
Is there a u-turn taking place now in social care? Certainly some directors are taking responsibility for both adults’ and children’s services again. This appears, on the face of it, to be a step back to the role fulfilled by social services directors before Lord Laming’s report into the terrible death of Victoria Climbie led to a revolution in the delivery of social care.
It would also appear to be contrary to the Every Child Matters agenda, which has transformed social services in the four years since the Children Act 2004.
One of the principles enshrined in the Every Child Matters programme was that children’s services in each area must be closely linked together in a children’s trust by April this year, and be led by a local authority director of children’s services. This meant that council education and children’s services departments should be working closely with children’s health services, Connexions and youth offending teams.
So we all knew which direction we were heading didn’t we? Well, the picture may now have become a little more complicated.
There is a move, in some parts of the country, back to a director responsible for both children’s and adults’ services. There are approximately 11 authorities that currently have a person fulfilling this role, though it is difficult to be exact because no organisation has gathered comprehensive information.
But that’s where the similarity ends. The job description for these post-holders, who have an array of different titles, are significantly different to the old social services directors.
John Dixon, executive director adults and children at West Sussex Council, says he does not know of any department that has reverted to the old structure.
“It’s not back to the old model. The big difference is that education and social services have come together, and are responsible for schools,” he says. “It is a two step process and we are now seeing the second step,” says Dixon, who is president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services.
At West Sussex, Dixon was originally appointed as social services director before losing responsibility of children’s services to the education director. He then took control of both services again three months ago.
Children’s services, delivered by different agencies, are now integrated, he explains, and it is about those services being brought together with other services, including those for adults.
Tony Eccleston, who is director of social care and learning at Bracknell Forest Council, took on responsibility for children and adults in April this year, and sees it as a progression in the development of the council’s services.
“It is not contradictory to Every Child Matters,” he says. Rather, it means the council can concentrate on tailoring services for families, and for people from birth to end of life.
Dixon agrees: “Almost all children with complex problems have adults attached to them who also have complex needs. So there is a strong case for an integrated adult and children’s response.”
His council doesn’t see the dividing line between children’s and adults’ services as being at 18, because many children do not leave home until they are 25.
“Local authorities need a much more ‘ordinary life’ approach,” he says.
Many adults’ service directors now have responsibility for housing and neighbourhood renewal, as well as leisure in some cases. “These services are seriously important for children, and if it’s good for adults it’s good for children as well,” Dixon says.
There are also financial benefits attached to the concept of jointly managed departments.
Both Bracknell Forest in Berkshire and West Sussex are floor authorities, so that means they are allocated the minimum rise in funding each year by the government. Eccleston says Bracknell Forest, which is one of the smallest unitary authorities in the country, had an adult social services department which was already smaller than other service divisions before it relinquished control of housing in a stock transfer to a newly-created housing association earlier this year.
So it made sense to bring services for adults and children together, and offer more rounded support to all members of the family at the same time. “We have a ‘people’s department’ now,” he says.
Some might say that’s all well and good, but what about the pressure on the individual faced with the challenge of meeting the demands of this new joint service offering.
Below Dixon in the West Sussex hierarchy there are specialist managers to help him, such as an assistant housing director and an executive director seconded from the NHS, who span both adults’ and children’s services. He does work long hours during the week and a little bit at weekends, but stresses that this is no more than he was doing before the move to a joint service.
His salary did not go up and neither did Eccleston’s, who isn’t too concerned as he is retiring soon (end of July) to do some consultancy work.
Eccleston describes how he has had to take a more strategic position, letting go of some of the detailed managing he was doing before.
“We have enhanced the role of the former assistant directors and made them chief officers,” he says. He now manages five chief officers, who were all given a pay rise.
There are other major benefits to adults from their service being joined to the support services offered to children, for example, Eccleston says: “We have learnt a lot about safeguarding through the work of boards and this will help us to safeguard adults.”
David Archibald, who is executive director for children and adults at the London Borough of Ealing, says there are people who sit on both the adults and children safeguarding boards in his area, which reflects the similarities between the work of each board.
He is also a director with statutory responsibility for both children and adults, and has fulfilled that role since he took the newly-created job in May 2005.
There are three directors below him covering adult services, children and families, and school improvement.
Archibald believes both services are benefiting from integration: “There are different ways of organising things, and there is no such thing as a perfect structure.
“But there are significant benefits from integrating services, and having a broad cross-cutting approach. We have a similar approach to improving outcomes both for children and vulnerable adults,” he says.
He stresses that the local authority has implemented the Children Act wholeheartedly, and an example of that is a new fully integrated service for disabled children, with 180 staff from social services, education and health all under one roof.
For Archibald it is a “privilege” to be responsible for both major service areas, and it is a role he really enjoys. He is working at a strategic level, but believes it is important and necessary to “dive into the detail” sometimes.
It is crucial that there are quality staff working with him, he says, at both management and frontline levels. Political support is also a vital ingredient.
So, there is no u-turn. Instead the goal of integrated children’s services is being achieved at different rates across the country, and now some local authorities are taking matters a step further.
It is unclear how many councils will follow this route, but by bringing services for adults and children together again they are able to offer a package of support to all age groups. They can make significant differences to the quality of life for vulnerable people by enabling access to all services.
Local authorities in England that now have a director responsible for children’s and adult services:
This article appeared in the 24 July issue under the headline “Back to the future”