It would be churlish not to welcome the new Children Bill as much
of what it sets out amounts to much-needed reform. But as the dust
settles after its launch, we are left with a feeling of pleasant
surprise tinged with more than a little disappointment. The bill
contains no nasty shocks but there are several omissions and missed
On the plus side, it’s good that the government appears to have
listened to concerns over the lack of flexibility in some of its
proposals, so the decision not to opt for a one-size-fits-all
approach to children’s trusts is welcome.
But on the new post of children’s director, it is still not clear
how this addresses concerns raised by Lord Laming over the issue of
accountability. Surely creating such a vast role, which is
inevitably further away from children, could make true
accountability more difficult to achieve.
Clearly taking on the job of local authority children’s director
will be a fantastic opportunity for an individual to make a real
difference to young people’s lives locally. But when children’s
minister Margaret Hodge talks about the role being “where the buck
stops” it sounds a bit like they are being set up to be the fall
guy next time something goes seriously wrong.
A missed opportunity is the proposal for a children’s commissioner
for England. What a let-down. We’ve been waiting for this for so
long yet what we have is a pale imitation of what is planned for
Scotland and what already exists in Wales and Northern Ireland, not
to mention many other countries across Europe. It just doesn’t make
sense to give the children’s champion role in England far less
power than its counterparts elsewhere.
The other big issue is if this really is to be the bold, new vision
the government says it is, where is the money? Ministers just
cannot be allowed to gloss over this with bland assurances about
freeing up cash through better use of existing resources.
You cannot have a shake-up on this sort of scale, and recruit staff
to deliver the changes, without coming up with the funds to pay for