The government’s review of child care published last week is a
significant vote of confidence in local government. The Prime
Minister’s strategy unit report, Delivering for Children and
Families, sets out a vision of services in the year 2010 in
which Sure Start, early years and child care services are
integrated locally under the wing of local authorities.
The strategy unit report only makes recommendations, but coming
with the full authority of number 10 the pattern of services it
implies is unlikely to be very wide of the mark. It will give
councils, particularly chief executives, a key role in driving
forward the delivery of services.
Integration locally will be assisted by integration nationally,
thanks to the formation during the summer of a combined Sure Start,
early years and child care unit with its own minister, Baroness
Cathy Ashton. One of the advantages of this development will be
more streamlined funding of services and less time spent tapping
the current multiple sources of funding.
While the distance between local government and adult care services
is likely to increase, precisely the opposite will be the case for
child care. The prospects for Sure Start were announced less than a
month after health secretary Alan Milburn detailed proposals for
children’s trusts based in local authorities with powers to
commission health as well as social care.
Taken together these measures provide an enormous opportunity for
children and families social services, which have suffered from an
over-attention to heavy-duty child protection services and a
chronic under-investment in family support. They hold out the hope
that the momentum afforded to family support services by children’s
trusts, hitched to a fully integrated Sure Start, early years and
child care programme, will honour the promise of a comprehensive
range of children in need services once made in the Children Act
1989 and only dreamed of since.
The speed of this transformation will doubtless depend on how
councils measure up to the comprehensive performance assessment.
But the rewards of success cannot be ignored.