Plans hinge on harmony

In his introduction to the children’s green paper, Every Child
, the prime minister sums up in a few words the entire
thrust of his government’s policy: it is not just about reducing
risk to children, but about maximising opportunities “to improve
their life chances, to change the odds in their favour”. Not just
about child protection, then, nor just about family support, but
about education, health, youth justice and tackling poverty. It
encapsulates in more concrete form all those high but mostly
unrealised ideals from the Children Act 1989, which spoke of the
child in need and not merely of child protection. The dual nature
of the aim is the same now as it was then, both to save children
from harm and actively to promote their well-being.

The numerous attempts to implement this aim in the 1990s often came
to grief, although pockets of good practice show that the failure
to run preventive services alongside heavy duty child protection
was never as comprehensive as is sometimes made out. The question
exercising the minds of those who must respond to the green paper
consultation is whether the new policy is likely to be any more
successful than the old. The government can claim to have made
important advances in educational achievement within and beyond the
care system, patterns of offending, and economic well-being among
young people, even if a great deal remains to be done. But the
green paper will be measured less on its dependence on the broad
aims of government policy and more on the detail of its proposals
for implementation.

There is much to commend its emphasis on integration by
establishing multi-disciplinary teams and co-locating services in
schools and Sure Start children’s centres. It makes sense that
services should be available where problems are likely first to be
identified. However, as experience elsewhere has demonstrated,
professional rivalries within multidisciplinary teams working to
common assessment frameworks are as likely to undermine
co-operation as enhance it. The interprofessional rancour created
in some parts of the country by the single assessment process for
older people is proof enough of that. It may be that the promised
joint training of social workers, nurses, teachers and myriad other
practitioners working with children will be enough to overcome the
cultural barriers, cut the skirmishing and produce harmony. But it
will take more than fine words and a spot of training to quash the
kind of resentment that talk of “flexibility” can breed. The
envisaged review of “rewards, incentives and relativities across
children’s practice” will have to be thorough, fair and have its
recommendations resourced if it is to be a proper part of the

The green paper is also heavily reliant on relatively untested
concepts such as children’s trusts and identification, referral and
tracking (IRT). The pilot children’s trusts are barely off the
drawing board and the full evaluation of the 15 IRT trailblazers
won’t have been done until this time next year, yet the
consultation deadline of 1 December suggests that these new
recruits will be shoved up to the front line of policy before they
have had a chance to show their mettle. The exact status of
children’s trusts remains vague, both in relation to the role of
the director of children’s services and the division of
commissioning and providing responsibilities. And for all the
merits of IRT in promoting information-sharing between agencies
locally, technical solutions alone will not produce the changes the
government wishes to secure, as the green paper freely admits. It
is a document which, in its analysis of the problems, rises to the
challenge set for it by the Laming inquiry. But precise answers are
more elusive and much will depend on the outcome of the

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