Education secretary Charles Clarke is the first to admit that
the emphasis on getting children’s services to focus on prevention,
which lies at the heart of the green paper released this week, may
be met with scepticism by those who have seen the Department of
Health try and fail to achieve the same thing over the years.
But he believes that despite the lack of success in the past, this
time it will be different. Speaking exclusively to Community Care,
he says: “The fundamental difference is that we now have for the
first time ever, as a result of changes to government machinery, an
organisation -Êthe Department for Education and Skills
-Êthat brings together all professions dealing with children.
That means the aspirations that we have had for a long time can be
put into effect. To build an integrated approach is the only way we
can do it.
“My message for all social workers is that responsibility for
children is not theirs alone but all professionals. One of the
reasons that social workers feel beaten up and put upon is the
difficulties they face.”
His message will be welcomed by social workers who routinely find
themselves given lead responsibility for a child and in the firing
line when things go wrong. Lack of clarity about where one
professional’s responsibility ends and another’s begins was among
the many problems highlighted in Lord Laming’s report into the
death of Victoria Climbi’, to which the green paper owes its
The introduction of a lead professional for each child is one of
the recommendations in the 100-plus page report and is designed to
change all that. The professional will probably be the one with
whom the child has most contact. The decision will be made at the
discretion of those involved, says the document.
At the centre of the integration plans is a solid partnership
between education and children’s social services via the creation
of a children’s trust in most areas in England by 2006.
The proposal has caused a few raised eyebrows. Initially, they were
sold to local authorities as an option and, having only just been
introduced in 35 areas, it is arguably a little premature to set
out plans for their wholesale roll out.
Nevertheless, indications are that the government has invested a
lot in trusts, and having given them a central place within the
green paper it is clear that it cannot afford for the pilots to
Clarke argues: “The children’s trust is a concept with which I
think it is impossible to argue. The idea 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
the Victoria Climbi’ Report without that. Anybody who argues that
the child is best served by keeping them apart would be very
hard-pressed to make that argument.
“The real point about children’s trusts is there is no doubt that
they are the way forward for education and children’s social work.
How it extends to other areas is something for councils to think
But can the age-old problems of achieving genuine integration and
multi-agency working be solved by this model? With plans to create
co-located teams within children’s centres and extended schools,
the government must certainly hope so. But as experience has shown,
placing individuals from different professional backgrounds in the
same office will not in itself prevent culture clashes. And, if
handled badly, such an arrangement can be the cause of tension
rather than the cure.
Within the next decade centres staffed by multi-disciplinary teams
of social workers, doctors and police may be a reality so the
inclusion of core training for all professionals working with
children, proposed in the paper, will only be a first step to
creating better integration of workers.
Clarke says: “I hope all local authorities will create children’s
centres because it is the sensible way to go. I can’t prescribe how
it will work in every part of the country but I think co-location
is a good idea. The way I would see it is if there is not to be
co-location, in my opinion there has to be a good argument for
there not to be.
“But don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you can wave a magic wand
and say that is where you get to immediately.”
Encouragingly, the paper sets out proposals for giving each agency
with responsibility for children a legal duty to safeguard
It also recommends scrapping area child protection committees,
which varied dramatically in quality from place to place, replacing
them with local safeguarding children boards, which will have
How effective they will be in ensuring each agency commits the
resources to child protection remains to be seen, however.
Clarke believes that placing a statutory responsibility on each
agency involved in a board will “utterly change the climate
compared to what the situation has been before”. But he admits that
it is unlikely that it would, for example, have the power to
dictate to a chief constable how much of their budget should be
spent on child protection.
He adds that “every organisation has to balance its
Accountability, one of the issues that attracted scathing remarks
from Lord Laming in his report, is one of four main areas in the
There are also plans to launch a recruitment campaign to attract
more people to work with children. How this will work and how much
money will be spent on it is not yet known. But many will hope it
is given a higher-profile than the social work recruitment
campaign, which was launched two years ago.
Ultimately, something a little more meaningful than a public
relations exercise would probably go a long way to attracting the
calibre of staff desperately needed in areas such as children’s
Better pay would be top of the list for many, especially those in
London and the South East faced with the crippling cost of living
in the capital.
Clarke admits pay is a factor but says it should not be overstated.
“It is there, that’s absolutely undeniable. But I remain of the
view that the key issues for the profession are status, which pay
is a part of, training and an end to being pushed about by
different trends of opinion after a crisis. Self-confidence in the
profession is probably the most important framework that we set out
in the green paper.
“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 part of it,” he argues.
Worryingly, the financial impact of much of the green paper’s
proposals is brushed over and Clarke is tight-lipped about how much
it will cost to achieve its ambitious plans.
“We didn’t put a price tag on it for one principal reason. We think
the benefits to the system of integration, of getting one funding
stream as opposed to many and 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 comprehensive spending review,
It is acknowledged that lack of resources was a key problem in
agencies’ mishandling of Victoria Climbi”s case. Many believe that
the system is underfunded so a large cash injection, rather than
clever juggling of current funds as some have suggested, may be
needed if the government’s plans are to work.
The green paper, described by prime minister Tony Blair as the
“biggest reform of children’s services for 30 years,” has received
a largely positive response but only when it becomes clear how it
will be financed will there be real belief in what it promises.
– A full version of this interview is at www.communitycare.co.uk