Let councils serve

The root-and-branch reforms of child protection recommended by the
Victoria Climbie Inquiry were designed, said the inquiry
chairperson Lord Laming, to “create a clear line of accountability”
among the agencies responsible for children’s welfare. New
proposals put forward by a group of organisations representing the
agencies themselves are intended to do the same, but with less
fuss. Rather than the complex apparatus of local committees
overseen by a national strategic agency suggested by Laming, the
representative bodies want the government’s promised green paper on
children to build on the existing system.

It is a model that the group – which includes the Association of
Directors of Social Services and the Local Government Association
along with NHS and education representatives – calls Serving
Children Well. And, for the most part, it does. They rightly
recommend that there should be statutory recognition of
democratically elected local authorities as accountable for all
child protection and that partnership working between different
agencies should be put on a formal, legal footing. The model would
also give councils enhanced powers under the Children Act 1989 to
require the co-operation of partner organisations rather than have
to rely on their good will.

As an approach to child protection services it sits comfortably
with the idea of children’s trusts, on which the government’s hopes
are pinned for the future delivery of children’s services
generally, and the Children’s Fund, administered locally by
councils. The pilot children’s trusts, many of which will
themselves be accountable to councils, should be announced shortly.

But what happens ultimately may depend on the outcome of the battle
between government departments for the soul of policy on children
and families. The Home Office and the Department for Education and
Skills appear to be locked in a power struggle for the brief, while
the Department of Health may give up its existing share of
responsibility altogether.

The victor in this turf war won’t be known until the green paper is
published some time in the summer. Who will win? The Home Office,
with its centralising, authoritarian tendencies, or the DfES, with
its more devolved, empowering approach? Either way, it will have a
major influence on the content and tone of the green paper and,
make no mistake, profound implications for the future capacity to
serve children well.

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