Getting it right

forthcoming Association of Directors of Social Services paper
recommends that the government address recruitment, resources and
training for children and families social workers. Here, the
paper’s author, Alison Painter, makes the ADSS’s

and young people are our future, our single most important asset.
As Gordon Brown says, they are 20 per cent of now and 100 per cent
of the future. The experiences of childhood and the absence of
love, care, security and education can crucially shape adult lives,
as can the presence of poverty, discrimination and

In the
past few years we have seen considerable progress in delivering
social care services to the most vulnerable and excluded

in the UK. Social services have developed new and innovative
services to meet the needs of children. Services such as health,
housing, education, social care and criminal justice are now
becoming more integrated, and in many cases jointly commissioned
and delivered, often through multi-agency teams. Also, there has
been an increase in cross-departmental initiatives aimed at
reducing social exclusion, and addressing inequalities of health,
education and crime. There has also been a focus on involving and
empowering children and families, and an increased emphasis on
performance management and outcomes.

although these developments have gone a long way to improving the
lives of many young people, there are still some alarming

– One in
three children are still living in poverty.

– Up to
one in 10 children in the UK are suffering from some kind of mental
health disorder and as many as one in five have suffered mental
health difficulties at some time.

– There
were 400,000 children in need (as defined by the Children Act 1989)
living in England in February 2000, a 10 per cent increase since

– The
number of children looked after by local authorities in the UK has
risen by 13 per cent since 1994 – from 49,300 to 58,100 in

today’s children become tomorrow’s responsible citizens
is largely dependent on the opportunities they have to be members
of a stable family, receive appropriate health care and have access
to good education.

too many of our children live in unsatisfactory and unsafe
environments. Too many have limited success in school and leave
school unprepared for productive adulthood. All of this has
considerable costs both in human and economic terms.

So how
can we improve the outcomes for children and young people in the

forthcoming Association of Directors of Social Services paper,
Tomorrow’s Children, which was developed from a seminar
involving the ADSS children and families committee and key
voluntary sector organisations, details the need for the following
areas to be addressed immediately:

– A
re-evaluation of the financial and human resources required to
maximise social services’ capacity to assist vulnerable
children and prevent child abuse and child murders.

Similarly, there is a need for a hard look at the recruitment,
training and morale of workers in child care services.

– The
introduction of a three-year graduate training period for social
workers, which must be fully funded.

– A
reduction in the volume and weight of work that social


– A
review of the impact of asylum seekers on children’s

– The
appointment of a children’s commissioner.

paper also makes recommendations about the further investment and
development of services to children, young people and their
families in the UK.

believes that if social care is to meet the challenges of the next
decade it needs to build systems around the child and focus on
outcomes for children. Tomorrow’s Children explains some of
the crucial factors involved in the development of a more
outcomes-based approach for children.

for vulnerable children in the UK have grown up into a maze of
inter-related programmes, which sometimes lose the ends we are
trying to accomplish. Outcomes for children, young people and their
families must be the primary focus. While most agencies have been
working together for some time, and jointly commissioning and
delivering services is in many areas well established, there is
still more work to do on outcomes.

There is
also a need to look more closely at how services are commissioned.
Tomorrow’s Children raises one option, which would be to
develop a strategic organisation responsible for commissioning all
child care services, for example, education, social services, and
youth services. This could be achieved by extending the concept of
the children and young people’s local strategic partnership.
Many local authorities are already looking at the opportunities for
improving the service. Options include:

– Care
trusts for children, on similar lines as detailed in the NHS

– Virtual
trusts, where people remain in the same organisation, but agree the
common outcomes and use of pooled resources, as highlighted by the
Health Act 1999 flexibilities.

– A
public and private partnership structure, bringing together local
authority and voluntary and private sector staff with community

The way
services are delivered could also focus on functions rather than
organisations. It may be beneficial to have one assessment service
to assess the needs of all children. This would prevent the
scenario of children with similar needs being offered different
services depending on which agency they presented to. For example,
a child with special needs might go to a residential special school
after visiting education services or become a looked-after child
after going to social services.

government has already recognised the importance of joint funding
for inter-agency initiatives through the provision of flexible and
pooled budgets under the Health Act 1999. However, this concept
will need to be extended. If we are to jointly commission services
on a larger scale, it is crucial that partnerships between
statutory agencies and communities have access to funds to direct
services where they are needed.

There is
also a need to involve families much more closely in decisions
about priorities, strategies and financing of delivery of services.
This may result in setting up new governing structures in
communities, which will be responsible for developing and
implementing strategies for children, young people and

shaping the future will involve clear leadership. Visible leaders
will need to sustain the vision and message of change, keeping the
focus on better results for children and families. Leaders will
need to champion the cause for a more integrated and
outcome-focused approach. Closely related to leadership is the
recognition of the need to actively shape the type of culture where
organisations can work across organisational barriers and focus on
outcomes. Changing systems is as much about changing people as it
is about changing policies and practices. Relationships need to be
built where people are more willing to make commitments and trust
each other.

This will
need to involve a much clearer focus on a common understanding of
what different professionals have to offer, what needs to be
achieved, and the action necessary to achieve it.

future for children presents many challenges. Two things will be
important. The discipline to deliver the integrated services that
children, young people and their families deserve, and the passion
to make it happen.

Painter is independent researcher with Creative Exchanges, a health
and social care consultancy. She is the author of the forthcoming
ADSS paper Tomorrow’s Children.

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