Charles Clarke talks to Community Care

Charles Clarke

Education secretary Charles Clarke explained to Community
Care senior reporter Sally Gillen the government’s thinking behind
the green paper on children.


Question: The Department of Health has over the
years tried to get children’s services to focus on
prevention, but because of a range of reasons, including lack of
resources and buy-in from other agencies, it has always failed. Why
will it be different this time?

Answer: The absolutely fundamental difference
is this is not the DoH. We now have for the first time ever, as a
result of the machinery of government changes, an organisation that
brings together all the professions dealing with children. That
means the aspirations that we have had for a long time can be put
into effect. To build up a team and an integrated approach is the
only way we can do it.

How much do you estimate the green paper will cost to

We have not put a price tag on it for one principal reason. We
think the benefits to the system of integration that is set out is
one of getting one funding stream, as opposed to many, one training
system, instead of many makes sense. If we need more resources, and
of course we may do, then that will be a matter for the next
comprehensive spending review. We need people to be working in an
integrated way and I don’t think resources is the main thing
that will make that happen.

Why have you decided to go ahead with the
children’s trust model as the future model when it is only at
pilot stage?

The children’s trust is a concept with which I think it is
impossible to argue. What is the concept? The concept is that you
have to bring education services together with children’s
social work. Now I don’t myself see how it is possible to
really apply the lessons of Laming and the Climbie Inquiry without
that. Anybody who argues that the child is best served by keeping
them apart would be very hard-pressed to make that argument, very
hard-pressed. The real point about children’s trusts is I
think there is no doubt that they way forward for those key
services and how it extends to others is something for the local
authority to think about.

What powers will the new Local Safeguarding Children
Boards have to compel bodies, such as primary care trusts to commit
resources to child protection?

We are placing a statutory obligation on all agencies and that
includes primary care trusts. Who enforces that, at the end of the
day I can’t say because it is not the case that one of the
boards can force a chief constable, for example, to allocate
resources which otherwise they would not because the chief
constable has to allocate resources according to priorities by law
for that chief constable. What I can say is the placing of the
statutory responsibility on each agency which participates in that
board utterly changes the climate compared to the situation that
has gone before. To be honest I can’t see a state of affairs
where a board would tell a chief constable that he had to close
down his burglary squad and allocate the police officers to school
duty for the sake of argument. I don’t think you can get to
that stage of affairs because every organisation has to balance its
responsibilities. But the fact we have put so much weight as to
give a statutory obligation to all agencies responsible for child
protection I think changes the nature of the discussion. 

As we all know, the Laming report said quite basic
changes in the practice of frontline workers would have meant
Victoria Climbie was protected. Wouldn’t better pay attract
people to children’s social work?

It is always there, that is undeniable. But I remain of the view
that the key issue for the profession is status, of which pay is a
part of, training and an end to being pushed about by different
trends of opinion. I think self-confidence in the profession is
probably the most important framework that we set out in the green
paper. I would say that if you tried just to deal with pay without
dealing with those other questions you wouldn’t make much
progress, but also acknowledge that if you are going to make
progress on the other questions pay has got to be a part of it.

What is the difference between a Sure Start centre and a
children’s centre?

What has happened is you have a Sure Start programme, which was
developed as a sort of add on with its own funding stream, which
was established on the basis of principles of early intervention,
joint professional work and so on and that was established with a
separate funding stream. What I said yesterday was that we need to
establish those Sure Start principles and make them the mainstream
approach to everything we do across all of this area. Infact I
argued that at the conference in July of the pre-school learning
alliance and I believe that to be the case. Now where
children’s centres, extended schools etc fit into that, well
they are all elements to try and start the mainstreaming process in
that area. 

At the end of the day, the bottom line is I don’t see any
distinction between a Sure Start centre and a children’s
centre. They are all manifestations of the same history. Buy our
big challenge with the green paper, which I think is really tough,
is to mainstream that approach. I would like to see every
children’s centre, which exists now working on Sure Start
principles. I would like to see every community in the country
having a children’s centre. Of course, I think it is right to
give priority to communities where deprivation is most severe.

Yarmouth has just got an extended school approach because
Yarmouth is a very poor area of Norfolk and that’s right.
That’s how it should be. I don’t think it’s
sensible to go to those areas first because those are the areas
where the community is weakest, the family is weakest and so on.
But there’s no reason why leafy Surrey, for example,
shouldn’t have one tomorrow. I’ll add a point further.
I hope that all local authorities will begin establishing a
children’s centre approach for all parts of their
communities. That’s the sensible way to go.

So will children’s centres have co-located

I can’t prescribe exactly how it will work in every part
of the country. But I think that co-location is a good idea. The
way I see it is if there is not be co-location, in my opinion there
has to be a bloody good argument for there not being co-location. I
think the case for co-location is very strong.

There are though bound to be some cultural clashes with
a multi-disciplinary team?

If you go to see the Sure Start approach, which I have done, it
is absolutely exhilarating. I went to an annual event not that long
ago in my constituency and it was exciting. They were liberated by
it. They were positive about it. It was wonderful. They felt
instead of going through some battle of the institutions, they were
genuinely working as a team for children in their area. Don’t
get me wrong. I’m not saying you can just wave a magic wand
and that’s where you get to.

Can you explain to me what the relationship between
Ofsted and the Commission for Social Care Inspection will

We are looking at developing an integrated inspection approach.
If Oftsted was to come in with its big boots and say we don’t
care about what’s going on here, that wouldn’t be right
and that’s why we are not proposing it. What were are asking
Ofsted to do is talk to the other inspectorates, which is what they
are doing, about how best to build an integrated approach, which
respects the professionalism that already exists. I think Ofsted
has a very good record. I know people are frightened by the word
Ofsted, or some people can be, but for me Ofsted has a high level
of professionalism.

Will Margaret Hodge take over responsibility for Youth

The Youth Justice Board remains Home Office agents and Paul
Goggins has responsibility for that. We don’t intend to
change that.

Have you any idea when you might introduce the new

I’m not in a position to do that. But we are hoping for
the earliest legislative opportunity.

How important is the voluntary sector?

Vital. One of the things that is so encouraging is the general
welcome that the voluntary sector has given both to the
reorganisation and the green paper. I see the voluntary sector as
absolutely critical for a variety of reasons. There are many
organisations with a very strong historic track record of care for

Can you tell me anything about the recruitment

The campaign will focus on the status and contribution of social
workers to modern life. This is a well-respected, valuable,
positive, committed profession and working in partnership with
everyone else. That will be the central message.

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