Children’s bill: heed local views

The children’s bill is almost upon us and there is an unprecedented
level of enthusiasm across the sector to change the way we work.
But in order to harness this keen ambition it is vital that the
government does not present us with an unduly prescriptive

The characteristics of local communities and the unique
circumstances of each area must inform how local players organise
themselves. As the green paper makes clear, children, families and
communities must be involved in shaping services and arrangements
according to their local needs. Successful delivery of policies
depends upon there being flexibility in local implementation.

One concern is that the government may dictate a single approach
for the arrangements that councils must put in place. Imposing one
model would not recognise the local complexity of each area. Such a
degree of prescription could impede integration and even have
disastrous consequences for some children and families.

The guidance for children’s trusts has been welcomed as it
recognises the need for flexibility. The same level of flexibility
is required in the structural arrangements of all statutory and
voluntary organisations.

Some structural changes will be necessary in order to ensure clear
accountability and effective integration, but form must follow
function. The process of change should not begin at a structural
level. Arrangements must be shaped from the bottom up, beginning
with an assessment of local needs.

The focus should then be on cultural change at a whole system
level. Imposed structural changes will not improve services if they
are not owned and understood by the people on the ground who have
the greatest impact on the lives of children and families. What is
important is integrating the work of different departments, not how
the departments are structured.

What would be the rationale for top performing authorities
unpicking their arrangements and replacing them with an untested
structure? Confining local government and its partners to a
specific unproven approach will distract people’s attention and
increase the risk of systems failures. We must build and capitalise
on the current situation, where the government’s own evidence is
that children’s services in most areas are improving.

Councillor Alison King is chairperson of the Local
Government Association’s social affairs and health

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