Vital step toward better services

The waiting is almost over and the children’s green paper will soon
be out. What should we be looking for in assessing whether it will
deliver real and lasting improvements to children’s lives and

First, it will be important to remember that it is a green paper.
Although it may contain some definite policies from which the
government will not be diverted, it is basically a consultation
paper. We can reasonably expect it to set out the government’s
vision for ensuring no child is left behind and to establish the
general direction of travel for achieving this.

A key question is whether this vision will be an inclusive one,
with the starting point that we should aim high for all our
children, while accepting that some will need more help than
others. Or will it start from a deficit perspective that singles
out some children in a stigmatising way? I sincerely hope it will
do the first, not the second: this will be crucial in determining
the character of children’s services in the years to come.

A key issue is how the paper “handles” child protection. Will there
be an effective “whole system response”? Will child protection
become an imperative for education and health as it is for social
care? And what will be the government’s proposals for extending the
public’s role in helping to protect children?

A linked issue is whether the government will get the balance right
with child protection, or will the paper be dominated by it,
neglecting the need to deliver more preventive support? What will
be the roles of universal and targeted services, and will there be
a coherent system to ensure that children who need extra help are
picked up early? Simply posing these questions shows how hard
developing the paper must have been; no wonder it took almost a
year to produce.

Ministers have signalled that the paper is likely to contain
proposals for local structural change. Children’s trusts are
expected to be promoted and there may be a greater role proposed
for schools. Measures for strengthening the children’s workforce
are anticipated and, since children’s services depend first and
foremost on the skill and commitment of the people who work in
them, these aspects of the paper will be crucial.

The questions are big and complex and it is probably unrealistic to
expect the green paper to contain comprehensive answers to them
all. In this respect, the paper’s publication will signal the
beginning of the debate, not the end of it.

Caroline Abrahams is director of public policy at

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