Patrick Butler warned in The Guardian recently that we could expect cuts of up to 30% in early intervention projects aimed at tackling problems in high-risk families, as a consequence of ring-fencing child protection services. In response to such warnings, Matt Dunkley, vice-president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, has called for radical and forensic reconfiguration of child protection services, removing bureaucracy from children’s services and working more imaginatively with colleagues in other services. Well, that sounds exciting – now is surely the time to throw everything up in the air to see if it lands differently. We cannot continue to simply rebalance the two aspects of safeguarding as the purse gets emptier.
While crisis theory might recommend a remodelling at this time, I would suggest that the development of early intervention services requires a particular philosophical stance, which may be missing in the current political climate.
There are many people within the schools system who might be delighted at the prospect of more imaginative working with social care. They are already engaged in early intervention work in its broadest sense, whether looking to improve educational outcomes as a protective and social engineering measure, drawing adults into classes to build parenting skills or improve employment prospects, or working directly to overcome the effects of poverty, substance misuse, or poor mental health.
As a philosophical position it need not be confined to only one part of the education system. The work is dependent on the beliefs and power of the head teacher and governors, an understanding of children and families in the round, not as compartmentalised individuals. Some academies already offer family support work. But these practitioners are also under threat as the cuts hit.
A “radical and forensic” reconfiguration suggests more than tinkering with the edges or leaving it up to personal preference. I say “bring it on”.
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