Vision welcomed but doubts over training, register, committees persist

If the familiar is reassuring, local government leaders and social
services directors are probably feeling relaxed about the
children’s green paper proposals leaked to Community Care
last week, given their resemblance to many of their own ideas
(news, page 6, 17 July).

The green paper and Serving Children Well, published by
the Local Government Association, the NHS Confederation and the
Association of Directors of Social Services last summer, build on
the government’s earlier plans for the development of children’s
strategic partnership boards.

Both suggest that these partnership boards should be placed on a
statutory footing and should work with local multi-agency
commissioning and delivery units – such as children’s trusts.

And both suggest a single unified assessment system, backed by new
information-sharing systems, that would allow different
professionals working with children to share a common approach to
assessing and recording need.

But there are also some noticeable differences. While the LGA, NHS
Confederation and ADSS argue that “central to the new vision is the
involvement of children in the process and planning of services”,
there is no mention of child or parent involvement in the 30-page
draft version of the government’s response to the Victoria Climbi’
Inquiry report and the joint chief inspectors’ Safeguarding
Children report.

In addition, while the NHS and local government leaders favour the
development of unified plans for workforce planning and recruitment
developed on a local basis, the leaked government document, which
will be published as an annex to the children’s green paper, says
the paper will propose “a comprehensive pay and workforce strategy”
and a possible move to multi-year pay agreements across the whole
children’s practice workforce.

The green paper is also expected to propose the introduction of
modular qualifications to allow those working with children to move
between jobs more easily, and the phasing out of the child
protection register once the new information-sharing and tracking
system – currently known as the identification, referral and
tracking (IRT) system – is up to speed.

There is, however, no reference to a ministerial children and
families board or a national agency for children and families as
recommended by inquiry chairperson Lord Laming in his report
published in January – although the government has recently
announced plans for a children’s commissioner and created the new
post of minister for children and young people.

While there is always the chance that the draft annex document does
not paint the whole picture or that some details could change
between now and the green paper’s much-delayed publication in the
autumn, it has nonetheless caused some in the sector to warn of
potential problems around certain aspects of a vision for
children’s services that has otherwise been broadly welcomed.

Highlighting one such fear, director of the British Association of
Social Workers Ian Johnston says: “Basw would be concerned about
people’s rights in this new process when it comes to sharing
information. There is nothing worse for parents than thinking
people are talking behind your back. For families that are already
under the microscope and are anti-authority, the nature of these
relationships could be crucial in perhaps reinforcing their
alienation rather than tackling their concerns.”

He also believes there are many issues in terms of values and
confidentiality. “I would share information with one teacher but
not with another because I am not convinced that some teachers
would use it properly, for example information about a mum being on
a methadone programme.”

Moving on to the training proposals, Johnston adds: “The idea of a
modular qualification for professionals working with children is an
attractive way of looking at new kinds of more flexible services
and different kinds of career opportunities for people.

“But there is a certain danger that what the government is saying
is that there is a single way of dealing with children and it is
not acknowledging that different professions do different

Arthur Keefe, chairperson of social care training body Topss
England, also has concerns about the logic behind the proposals for
modular qualifications: “Most of the work around child protection
is undertaken by social workers. And social workers are about to
embark on a new three-year degree which includes social work
training in child protection. That is not the model being described

“I can see how the NVQ model used in early years for example lends
itself very well to this. But what does it mean for people about to
embark on a social work degree? Have people thought through the
implications for social work training?”

Meanwhile, Topss England’s head of policy development and
implementation, Richard Banks, welcomes the drive towards common
occupational standards, but warns the government against treating
the issue too simplistically.

“You don’t get everybody understanding the same thing by getting
them all sat in the same classroom. It has to be more sophisticated
than that. The shared occupational standards have got to be a
component of a shared approach to the service being provided to the
children and their families.”

On the question of the potential demise of the child protection
register, opinion is divided. Johnston says Basw would be “quite
pleased” if it was gradually phased out because, although it makes
sure the fact that some children are significantly at risk is
highlighted, by the same token it means that other children who are
not on the register do not always get the protection they require.

But co-chairperson of the ADSS children and families committee and
director of social services at Sheffield Council Penny Thompson
insists the child protection register “fulfils a very important

“I cannot conceive of the government wanting to phase out or remove
the child protection register until or unless there is something as
good as or even better in its place,” Thompson says.

“But of course we do want to see improvements. IRT has a lot of
potential. We are a trail-blazer in Sheffield. But there is a still
a fair way to go before we promote it as the way to safeguard all

More popular are the unified assessment proposals and the plans to
replace area child protection committees with statutory local
safeguarding children’s boards, created beneath the children and
young people’s strategic partnerships and invested with powers to
appoint independent teams to carry out serious case reviews.

“We have always supported the development of a common assessment
framework,” Thompson says. “We also think there should be some
underpinning knowledge and values that everyone should have. It is
very important that people have got the appropriate skills and

She adds: “The best ACPCs already report to their children and
young people strategic partnership boards. We need to make sure the
standards of the best become the norm.”

Children’s charity Barnardo’s would also welcome a unified
assessment process, and hopes it could release resources that could
be channelled into service delivery.

However, director of the charity’s UK operations Chris Hanvey says
the replacement of ACPCs with local boards will not improve the
child protection system unless they are better resourced than their

“Replacing ACPCs with local safeguarding children boards does not
address the issue of adequate resourcing,” he says. “The argument
in relation to ACPCs was always that they were not adequately
funded and, in many cases, could not even afford joint child
protection training.”

Johnston says Basw would welcome serious case reviews being
conducted by people who are more independent, but warns that those
appointed must be up to the job. “There seem to be a lot of people
floating around who get bits and pieces of work to do, but at times
it is questionable whether they have spent enough time working in
the front line.”

With parliament now in recess, there are unlikely to be any further
clues on the future of children’s services until the green paper’s
publication when MPs return from their summer break. This leaves
the sector no choice but to sit and wait to see which of the
proposals in the draft annex survive the summer, and whether the
government is listening to their remaining concerns.

“There is quite a lot for us to be reasonably happy about but we
are fed up waiting,” Johnston comments, summing up the sector’s
unified assessment of the situation.

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