The barriers are coming down

The idea of children’s trusts, first floated in the
comprehensive spending review white paper, came a step closer to
reality when health secretary Alan Milburn took up the theme at the
National Social Services Conference in Cardiff. It looks as though
the battle to have children’s trusts based in local
government has been won by the Department of Health, at least as
far as the commissioning of services is concerned, but there is no
mistaking the size of the government’s ambition. In breaking
down the barriers between education, health and social services to
provide a more seamless service for children, the trusts are
intended to be a radical break with the past.

For a start, they will have the power to commission health as
well as social care, a move which would have been unthinkable only
a few years ago but which has come to seem more sensible in the
light of local authorities’ experience of the Health Act
flexibilities and their clear advantage over the NHS in terms of
local accountability. The trusts will also encourage more social
services departments to follow those which have already parcelled
off children and families social services to education. It is
significant that the invitation to pilot children’s trusts,
due in December, will be issued by the Department for Education and
Skills as well as the Department of Health.

The trusts will certainly help to realign children and families
social services, which have come to seem increasingly out of step
with some of the new thinking that has emerged from Sure Start, the
Children’s Fund and Connexions. And, for those trusts
providing rather than commissioning services, the scope to set up
as not-for-profit, public interest companies with the capacity to
harness resources in the community, voluntary and private sectors
can only help attune services to needs. Aside from the still
uncertain fate of child protection, the prospects for
children’s services have seldom looked better.

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