A tick for the register?

The government is proposing local registers of young children who
are judged likely to be drawn into offending, drug abuse or teenage
pregnancy as they get older.

Local authority chief executives have been told to take the lead in
bringing together agencies to agree a strategy for improving
services for children at risk, including identifying, referring and
tracking (IRT) named children. If these proposals are really to
work three questions have to be answered.

First, although some teachers say they can spot children in the
early years of primary school or even younger who are heading for
trouble, it is far from clear that their predictions are always
accurate. Will the register be based on reliable indicators which
ensure the right children are being picked up?

Second, there are many potential disadvantages to children to being
cast as potential trouble-makers or teenage mothers. How will the
registers avoid disadvantaging children further by prejudicing
adults, including their teachers, against them, or becoming a badge
of honour.

Third, what is the point in identifying, referring and tracking
children unless there are in place services which will make a real
difference to their lives? The Children Act 1989 already places on
councils a responsibility to provide services to children who need
them to secure a reasonable standard of health and development, but
lack of resources for family support services has so far confounded
the act’s intentions. In a pilot exercise for IRT, Trafford
identified 1,500 candidates for the new register out of a child
population of 40,000 – nearly 4 per cent – so the focus is on a
wide swathe rather than a handful of extreme cases. We will be
letting these children down if we label them without providing the
resources to help them. It is doubtful whether the £600m
promised over three years from the Children’s Fund is enough.

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