What England’s children services do well

Despite the bad press dished out to children’s social services in England, there’s much that other countries could learn from the way we do things

The suggestion that child protection is something that we should be proud of may raise some eyebrows so recently after the Laming and Doncaster reports. But in my opinion we have really mature procedures, systems and people. That is not to be misinterpreted as a claim that all is well and we don’t need to further improve.

We have interagency procedures reinforced through area child protection arrangements, which are now overseen by safeguarding boards that have a wider remit than core child protection. This is a really positive development – now the police, education and other public agencies play a major part in identifying vulnerable and at risk children and influencing how their needs are met.

Society becomes justifiably concerned when systems go wrong but this is infrequent, and it is clear from the high quality of the work we see from professionals that actually our services and systems are something to be proud of.

Whatever changes are made following recent events we do need to recognise and defend what is currently working.

Integrated services

The Every Child Matters agenda is genuinely radical and has put the needs of children at the forefront of children’s services. The five outcomes that all services should aim to achieve has created a collective framework that universal and targeted services have been able to sign up to.

Co-location of services, budgetary alignment and integration of teams has removed some of the silos that can exist among some services and that can drive wedges between different teams and parts of the system.

The way we are developing a whole system for children is at the heart of a universal service for vulnerable children. The pulling together of the education system with other services for children has been a major factor in the developing success of Every Child Matters.

Early years focus

The progress in developing children’s centres, child care and extended schools has been rapid and spectacular over recent years.

There are now more than 2,000 children’s centres. These act as focal points for a range of services relating to children and family life, from parenting support to benefits advice. This development is a key cog in the prevention agenda and one that is also vital in identifying children and families who need earlier intervention.

The model is flexible in how it works so that the centres should fit around the needs of the community. Added to this is a strong ethos of the community taking a leading role in shaping and running these services.

I call this development the quiet revolution, and if these changes are allowed to bed down it offers an extraordinary opportunity for future families. If we get this right it makes it okay for parents to get a little help if they face social problems. That is a huge cultural change and one from which social work can benefit.

Evidence-based practice

Practice based on outcomes is taking root in the sector. This is important for reinforcing professionalism in social work and children’s services. This approach is beginning to enable frontline staff to deliver the right services where they are most needed and to work with their communities. Managers are developing new ways to practise and identifying what does and doesn’t work. This approach is important for creating a definable link between the actions social workers take and the likely outcome.

Workforce development

Closely linked to the focus on an evidence-based practice approach is the development of the Centre for Excellence and Outcomes in Children and Young People Services (C4EO) to share good practice and leadership across the sector.

Rather than waiting for the big hand of inspection or government to intervene, C4EO offers a model for local authorities to use our own experts to support each other. It is people-focused and involves a specialist from a particular authority spending around 40 days supporting other authorities. At the moment the key themes include early years and children with disabilities, but in the future we see the role broadening.

John Coughlan is director of children services at Hampshire Council and a former president of Association of Directors of Children Services


• Centre for Excellence and Outcomes in Children and Young People Services 

• Every Child Matters

This article appeared in the 19 March 2009 edition of Community Care under the heading English Lessons

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