Clouds of uncertainty

The government made it clear with the publication of its children’s
green paper Every Child Matters last September that
preventive services and support for parents were central to its
vision for improving the lives of children. But six months later
children’s services on the ground appear to be suffering as a
result of confusion at the centre.

Despite the Children’s Fund being set up in 2001 to deliver exactly
such services, it has found itself under continuous fire over the
last few months. First came the admission by the director of the
new Children, Families and Young People Directorate, Tom Jeffery,
that Children’s Fund programmes had been fallen foul of mistakes in
central financial management, resulting in the Department for
Education and Skills clawing back programmes’ unspent annual

Then came last week’s confirmation of a 15 per cent cut to the
Children’s Fund’s budget next year and a 30 per cent cut in
2005-06. And, finally, the DfES has announced it is to shed at
least 600-800 posts by 2006. Details of the job losses, which DfES
permanent secretary David Normington openly admits will result in a
“period of considerable uncertainty”, are not yet clear. But it is
realistic to assume the new directorate, which now has
responsibility for the Children’s Fund, will not emerge

Having been told by children’s minister Margaret Hodge in October
that their programmes were part of her vision for children’s
services and had an important role to play in taking forward
proposals in the children’s green paper, Children’s Fund programme
managers can be forgiven for not having foreseen such troubled

The series of events has left them understandably sceptical about
the future of their programmes, despite reassurances that ministers
are keen to see their pioneering preventive work continued up to
2006 and beyond.

The latest cuts will inevitably damage new relationships with the
community as promises are broken, and hard-to-reach children will
find themselves let down once more. At a time when the government
is trying to prove that every child matters, it is critical the
DfES provide better leadership to service-providers on the ground.

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