Local authority leaders have called for more freedom from central government over how children’s services work in a new report.
The Reclaiming Children’s Services report by Solace, which represents council chief executives and senior leaders, states the current system of regulation and inspection is stifling local government’s ability to provide the best support to children.
It argues that a more localist approach to children’s services would improve multi-agency working on safeguarding and reduce the divide between adult and children’s social work.
The report recommends removing the requirement to have a director of children’s services and for local authorities to work together on ways to identify struggling services and councils.
It also calls for a “national conversation” to reduce negative public and media perceptions of children’s social care.
Graeme McDonald, director of Solace, said while its members endorsed the values of the Every Child Matters reforms, the policy has limited councils’ capacity to take a holistic approach to children’s services and created an inspection regime that is forcing councils to focus on a narrow set of measures.
“Our approach is really what was envisaged in the Every Child Matters days in terms of what the outcomes were, but the regulations that were put around it have, as we said at the time, actually made it more difficult for that corporate approach to children,” he said.
“For example, services delivered to children in housing are in many ways as important to children as those delivered within children’s services and so that corporate approach to children and young people is really important.”
The report recommends reforming social work to make it easier for social workers to move between adult and children’s social care.
“It’s thinking about it in a more holistic way so that individuals are able to effectively move between those two specialisms more readily and those two specialisms are more able to link up,” said McDonald.
However, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) said it was opposed to Solace’s call to remove the requirement for councils to have directors of children’s services (DCS).
“The existence of the post of DCS does not stop safeguarding and protection of children being everybody’s business and there is no evidence to suggest that dispersed leadership would result in better services for children and families,” said Alison O’Sullivan, vice-president of the ADCS.
“Whatever the structure locally, it remains crucial that the single line of accountability is not lost.
“In a time of rapidly diminishing budgets, it is vital that the needs of our most vulnerable children in society are not subsumed by other competing political priorities.”
Solace’s report says that many of its members report that they are losing experienced social workers to agencies that can offer better salaries and work-life balance.
It also says that despite some recent improvements, many local government leaders are concerned about “readiness to practice” of recently qualified social workers.