Caution rules the day

It may have been published too late to have much influence on the
impending children’s green paper, but there are many respects in
which the House of Commons health committee report on the Victoria
Climbie Inquiry certainly ought to have had an influence. Lord
Laming’s inquiry report notably called for greater accountability
and more independent scrutiny in children’s services,
recommendations which are echoed in the health committee report.
But the committee rightly argues that these key aims can be
achieved more easily without the bureaucratic machinery that Laming
took to be a necessary condition of rigorous accountability.

In urging a cautious approach to the reorganisation of children’s
services, the committee implicitly acknowledges that events have
overtaken Laming. Margaret Hodge’s beefed up new ministerial brief
for children and families in the Department for Education and
Skills reflects the broad thrust of a government policy in which
children’s social services are closely allied if not merged with
education. This trend is likely to be accelerated when the
successful bids for pilot children’s trusts are announced

If children’s trusts are to flourish it will be important that
local mechanisms of accountability and multi-agency working are
allowed to emerge without rigid constraints imposed from the
centre. But at the same time, where child protection is a component
of the proposed children’s trusts, there must be more clarity about
the kinds of arrangements that are acceptable and those that are
not. As the health committee says, even if the green paper does not
lay down a framework that is prescriptive in detail, it must at
least offer a coherent strategy within which children’s trusts can

In at least two respects, the health committee’s recommendations
are, regrettably, likely to go unheeded. It goes beyond the
Victoria Climbi’ Inquiry in recommending a truly independent
children’s commissioner to uphold the rights and interests of
children, but the early indications are that the green paper will
balk even at the watered down Laming version. And the ban on
smacking, which the health committee and the parliamentary joint
committee on human rights have urged, is bound to be deemed
politically far too sensitive.

Hodge is understood to be fighting against some of the strictures
forced into the green paper by the minister in charge of it, chief
secretary to the treasury Paul Boateng. Much will depend on her

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