Waiting in the wings

David Behan explains
the Association of Directors of Social Services’ view that area child
protection committees are ready to take on an enhanced role, tied in to
national standards.

At their best, ACPCs
are responsible for a great deal of innovative work, and can function as
learning organisations, ensuring the growth and development of their members.
However, they also raise a number of complex issues.

Since ACPCs were
introduced, the range of organisations delivering services to children has
multiplied, and this fragmentation has caused a real challenge in developing
integrated multi-agency working as opposed to inter-agency working. New
co-ordination partnerships such as the crime and disorder reduction partnership
and local strategic partnerships have been developed. New requirements to
produce plans and strategies have been introduced such as the community
strategy. All of these have some direct relationship to the protection of
children and the promotion of their welfare.  

Consequently, the
ACPC needs to raise questions about its focus and its role. Should ACPCs focus
on all children, vulnerable children, children in need or children in need of
protection? The role and remit of an ACPC should focus on children in need of
protection. However, ACPCs should embrace the wider children’s agenda through
links to children’s strategic partnerships.

Clarity about the
role of ACPCs is also essential to secure clarity about the membership. The
development of new organisations, and the adaptation of others, has had
implications for the membership of ACPCs.

First, it has
contributed to a high turnover of members of ACPCs, which affects the
continuity of work. Second, because of the demands within their own
organisations and from other partnerships, there is a tendency for the most
senior managers to delegate attendance at ACPCs.

Third, the size of
ACPCs has grown to ensure that there is an appropriate representation of all
agencies operating in a local area. And fourth, the competing demands on the
individuals who attend ACPCs from within their own agencies are immense.
Consequently their capacity to undertake specific work as part of the ACPC work
plan is often restricted.

The ACPCs do not have
any executive authority. What authority they have comes from their member
agencies and from the seniority of representatives who attend. Consequently,
their authority derives from an ability to influence organisations in the

ACPCs are also
formally accountable for their work only to the main constituent agencies.
While some areas of accountability are clear, others are less so, particularly
if there are issues of conflict or disagreement. The Association of Directors
of Social Services in its evidence to the Victoria Climbié Inquiry has argued
that ACPCs should become statutory bodies. This would ensure greater ownership
and commitment from all the partner agencies. A higher profile for the work of
the ACPC would mean that the input of each agency towards the common goals
would be more visible. Statutory status would also demonstrate that this vital
area of work is a priority for the government.

ACPCs have operated
successfully as the mechanism for co-ordinating local policy and strategy in
safeguarding children, and the ADSS is seeking to encourage ACPCs to take on an
enhanced role. In order to promote clarity and consistency, the ADSS is
recommending that all ACPCs should operate within a context of national
standards. These would inform commonly agreed outcomes with linked performance
indicators, with an increased focus on setting outcome targets. The responsibility
for delivery should stay with each agency where the budgets are held and where
services are provided.

The ACPC will need to
link to all other arrangements between agencies for planning and providing
services. The ACPC should report on its performance and local agencies to the
governance arrangements of those agencies, to the chief officer or chief
executive, to elected members and to board members of health bodies. The
overview and scrutiny function should be a vehicle for reporting on
performance. Reports should also be made to key partnerships such as the local
strategic partnerships and the crime and disorder reduction partnership.

The representation on
ACPCs should be at the most senior level, with representatives being held
accountable for the performance of their agency for achieving nationally set
outcome targets.  

ACPCs are only one
part of the system for protecting children and families. Their role should be
enhanced to provide leadership, co-ordination and performance management of
local arrangements for protecting children. This will be best achieved through
ACPCs becoming statutory bodies.

David Behan is director of social services for Greenwich and
senior vice president of the Association of Directors of Social Services.

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.