Future of child protection pinned on trusts, but is the vision wide enough?

The long-awaited green paper to shake up children’s services in
the wake of the Laming inquiry is called ‘Every Child
writes Janet

Launching it in the House of Commons this week, education secretary
Charles Clarke pledged to ensure the title would not prove to be a
hollow slogan but instead encapsulate the government’s commitment
to lasting change.

“The tragic death of Victoria Climbie made us realise that we
simply can’t go on like this anymore,” he said.

About 80 children a year die as a result of abuse, a figure that
has remained constant over the past 30 years or so.

Six years into a Labour government, ministers are determined to
draw a line under past failures. Their response calls for more
inter-agency working and information sharing plus clearer lines of
accountability – all mantras we have heard before.

The question is whether they have come up with the structures and,
more importantly, the breadth of vision to achieve the “step
change” and “cultural shift” they are seeking.

The structural linchpins of the new order are children’s trusts
which, though the idea is barely off the drawing board, are to be
established across most of England by 2006.

They will come under the remit of a director of children’s services
who will be responsible for education and social services for
children. They will also include some children’s health services
using flexibilities under section 31 of the Health Act 1999,
although it is not yet clear exactly which health services or
indeed whether the children’s director and the children’s trust
chief executive will be the same person.

To an extent, local areas should be able to develop their own model
of children’s trust which may cover other services such as
Connexions and youth offending teams.

A pilot scheme of 35 children’s trusts has been running for only
two months and is yet to be evaluated so there are concerns that
the government may be premature in seizing on them as the

Chris Hanvey, UK director of operations at Barnardo’s, is among
those seeking clarification on how the new trusts will operate. “We
are concerned that the model is too vague and there is a danger of
new structures and mechanisms running ahead of any coherent

The Association of Directors of Social Services also has
reservations but wants local areas to be allowed flexibility to
adapt trusts to local circumstances. Its president, David Behan,
says the focus on integrating education and social services should
be widened to build in other agencies, including health and the

“We want to see the new directors of children’s services eventually
commissioning most services for children, including health.”

The merging of education and social services under one director is
aimed partly at achieving clearer lines of accountability. The
director will be supported by a lead council member responsible for
children, while young people known to more than one agency will
have a single named professional overseeing their case, though it
is not clear who that should be.

Nationally, the government has bowed to pressure and is introducing
a children’s commissioner to act as a champion for children. This
role is supposed to be independent but, according to the green
paper, they will report annually to parliament “through the
secretary of state” rather than directly.

This has raised questions over how easy it will be for the new
commissioner to criticise the Department for Education and Skills
if they have to do so through its boss.

At the top the buck will stop with Margaret Hodge. Although she
will report to Clarke, she told a press conference that she held
“overarching responsibility for this brave new world”.

But she was more cagey on the issue of how much money the
government was prepared to put up to support the changes. She gave
assurances that all the proposals had been costed but would not
supply a figure. “We have the costings and they are affordable. We
already spend about £1bn a year on teenagers and there’s some
work to be done on how we use this money to best effect.”

When pressed she added: “We can save money – we don’t need more
money – the real challenge is changing the way people work.”

To that effect the green paper sets out a raft of proposals on
workforce reform to make working with children “an attractive, high
status career and to develop a more skilled and flexible

Consultation ends on 1 December but it is already clear the
government has made up its mind on the central tenets of the
proposals, including the effective dismantling of social services

Should anybody care? Not according to Tim Byers, head of Solace,
the local authority chief executives organisation.

“I hope people don’t get hung up on the demise of social services
departments. Let’s not focus on ‘will social services lose out to
education?’ Let’s think in terms of ‘what can we do to ensure this
green paper secures the improvements for children that are so badly

 ‘Every Child Matters’ from www.dfes.gov.uk/everychildmatters 
A young people’s version is available from the same website.


“What’s really good is it aims to make child protection
everyone’s business, not just social services – a laudable but hard
to achieve aim.”
Anne Bristow, director of social services, Haringey

“Resources need to be allocated…this has tremendous potential but
requires a strong commitment to make it a reality. So far, so very
Lord Laming

“We can save money – we don’t need more money.”
Margaret Hodge, young people and families minister

“The jury is still out on children’s trusts.”
Roger Singleton, chief executive, Barnardo’s

“Today marks a turning point. In the past there has been a
piecemeal approach to reform that has papered over the cracks but
left children at risk.”
Education secretary Charles Clarke

The main proposals

Structural change

  • A new national children’s commissioner to be children’s
  • A new local post of director of children’s services to run
    education and social services.
  • By 2006 the director must bring together these services as
    children’s trusts. These will also cover some children’s health
    services, Connexions as well as other agencies such as youth
    offending teams.
  • Creation of a lead council member for children.
  • A lead professional for children known to more than one
  • Multi-disciplinary teams based in and around schools and
    children’s centres.

Early intervention/effective protection

  • Removing the legislative barriers to improved information
  • A single unique identity number for every child.
  • Police and health organisations to have a new duty to safeguard


  • Incentives for practitioners to remain on the front line.
  • A new high-profile recruitment campaign.
  • A workload survey to cut bureaucracy.
  • Flexible training routes into social work.
  • Modular qualifications to allow staff to move between

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