Children’s secretary Ed Balls today maintained the government’s focus on safeguarding in the wake of the Baby P case, in an announcement confirming the government will legislate to strengthen children’s trusts in 2008-9.
Balls said the Department for Children, Schools and Families would take forward plans, consulted on earlier in the year, to:-
- Extend the duty to co-operate in promoting children’s well-being, under the Children Act 2004, to schools and colleges.
- Require every area to set up children’s trust boards, including councils, primary care trusts, schools and other statutory partners.
- Require trust boards to agree and deliver the local children and young people’s plan, which is currently the responsibility of the council.
Legislation will be included in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech.
But while the consultation on the plans, published in July, barely mentioned safeguarding, Balls – speaking exactly a week after the conclusion of the Baby P trial – made it the focus of his announcement today.
He said the legislation would make early intervention for children at risk central to children and young people’s plans, and that trust boards would be asked to publish annual reviews of progress against plans “so that safeguarding remains a priority”.
He added: “Our responsibility – working together – is to ensure that children are safe and protected from abuse – and I will not rest until we have the very best possible child protection arrangements to safeguard our most vulnerable children in every part of the country.”
The DCSF also published separate statutory guidance on children’s trusts today, which comes weeks after the Audit Commission published a stinging report saying a confusion of role, caused by an inconsistent and over-prescriptive approach from government, had hampered trusts’ progress.
The department also issued consultative statutory guidance on the roles of directors of and lead members for children’s services.
Controversially, it warned against councils appointing officers to carry out the twin statutory functions of DCS and director of adult social services (DASS), following an increase in the number of authorities doing so to around 10%.
Warning on joint DASS/DCS appointments
It said: “There are clear distinctions between the roles and statutory responsibilities of the DCS and the DASS. While it is legally permissible for a local authority to combine the role of DCS with the role of the DASS, it is not recommended without a very strong justification.”
In particular, it warned that education and children’s social care should be fully integrated within any such structure, saying councils should not split these responsibilities at assistant or deputy director level.
The warning came after a report by the Improvement and Development Agency last month upheld councils’ right to appoint twin-hatted directors and pointed out that many of the councils that had done so were among the best-performing in the country in both children’s and adults’ services.