Debate: the Victoria Climbie report – what next?

The tragic death of Victoria Climbie will be a defining moment in
the history of children’s services. The Laming inquiry is now
complete, but it is important to locate it in the wider context of
the social changes that have taken place since social work evolved
in the 1950 and 1960s. We live in a more complex, complicated,
diverse, faster-paced and demanding world.

In the Association of Directors of Social Services’ evidence to the
Laming inquiry we emphasised some of the elements that should be in
the blueprint for future services. These included:

– The role of area child protection committees to be strengthened
and placed on a statutory footing, and provided with sufficient

– All agencies working within the ACPC should have a clear,
service-level agreement stating the contributions they will make to
protect children.

– All agencies involved in protecting children must develop
performance targets and outcome measures which reflect the priority
being given to protecting children.

– Workers should be co-located in multi-disciplinary teams.

– There should be clear information-sharing protocols between the
agencies, supported by solid investment in IT systems.

– Listening to children must be at the heart of any assessment even
where the needs of adults are presented over and above those of the
children. The protection of children is a multi-agency

– Strong universal and preventive services are required.

– Front-line workers across all agencies should be valued, and the
image of the work they do needs to improve.

But what about structural change? There are some 50 areas
interested in becoming a children’s trust. Many areas are
integrating services. A number have developed multi-disciplinary
child protection assessment services. Will it bring about the
desired outcome? In child protection the most frequently debated
aspect of structural change is whether or not to create a separate
child protection agency.

There must be a danger that the creation of any separate agency
will change the boundaries across which people need to communicate.
We believe that we need to “reconnect” universal and selective
services, not separate them.

Many children and their families are vulnerable at different stages
of their lives. Families may move along the continuum between
needing support and needing protection at various stages in their
development. The agency responsibility should not change when their
needs change. Child protection is essentially a local activity. It
is about the assessment, decisions and the actions of local
workers. The availability and quality of the front line response is
likely to be of greater importance than the structural arrangement
for delivery.

If we are to improve outcomes for children we need to change the
relationship between those who provide services face to face with
those who receive them. Such a change is about two things: our
organisational infrastructures and staff training and development.

Changes in structures which are a natural consequence of developing
a more outcome-focused, user-participative culture are something to
be embraced. But our objectives should be about providing outcomes
for children through developing the culture of our organisations
and ACPCs. The focus must be on delivering.

This is not an argument for maintaining the status quo. Far from it
– it is an argument for a rational, calm and measured debate on how
to improve outcomes for children which will lead to similarly
balanced proposals for developing and improving services.

David Behan is president of the Association of Directors of
Social Services

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