Children’s services chiefs raise fears over speed of green paper changes

Leaders of children’s services in the public and voluntary sector
have raised concerns about the scope and implementation of the
government’s children’s green paper.

At a Lang & Buisson-organised conference in London on reforming
children’s services, Jane Held, co-chairperson of the Association
of Directors of Social Services children and families committee,
said she was worried about the document’s emphasis on structures
and the quick pace of change.

She was “uncomfortable” with Every Child Matters’ proposals on
children’s trusts, strategic partnerships and safeguarding boards
because they focused on structure rather than outcomes for

But she applauded the government’s “ambition for children” and said
other elements of it, including the common assessment framework,
information sharing and integrated performance measures, were a
chance to put children’s interests at the heart of an
outcomes-based service.

Held said the speed with which the changes would be introduced –
the government plans to legislate early next year – would be
irrelevant if attitudes to children did not change.

She said: “We believe integration takes time. Why not take account
of the pathfinders before rushing into new ideas for the sake of

She added that some proposals had not been thought through, saying
the lines of accountability were “very odd”. Others, such as the
extent other agencies would be involved, had question marks over

Held complained about “silence” on the costs of pooling health,
social services and education budgets.

She said: “I suspect that once they put all the children services
together, having worked under the myth that they have put in lots
of money and become more efficient, what they will have done is put
together a collective underspend and got a very big problem.”

Barnardo’s chief executive, Roger Singleton, said it was important
that attention on the green paper did not result in attention being
diverted from front-line service delivery.

“The whole process will be very time-consuming on middle managers –
they are the ones who sit on steering groups and sub-committees.
There is a danger that all this restructuring will lead to a
neglect of quality on the front line,” he said. Barnardo’s chief
executive Roger Singleton warned the voluntary sector that the
battle for an effective children’s commissioner for England had yet
to be won.

Singleton said the “constrained” wording of the green paper called
into question the independence and powers of the role because the
incumbent would have to report to children’s minister Margaret

Singleton would prefer a similar system to Scotland’s, where the
commissioner will be accountable to parliament when appointed next

He said: “They are not going to be monitored by a minister,
especially a minister whose department they are likely to
scrutinise most. If we are going to be responding to the needs of
children, the commissioner needs the freedom to operate.”

Singleton said the campaign needed to focus on developing a broad
role for the post and clarifying lines of accountability.

“The focus should shift from whether we are going to have a
commissioner to what their responsibilities and investigative
powers are,” he said. Training consultant Seamus Jennings warned
that the green paper would be difficult to deliver unless local
authorities could attract back experienced social workers who have

Jennings, director of specialist training and consultancy firm
Outcomes UK, said he left local authority social work because he
could not cope with the number of departmental, corporate and
national government initiatives and the continual moving of

He said there was a danger the same could happen with the green
paper proposals.

“What we’ve lost in children’s services is a body of solid
experience and people who know the merits of reflective practice.
Either we’ve got to get them back or grow our own, or maybe a bit
of both,” he said.

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