Dangerous thoughts

The government gives the impression that it is becoming more and
more desperate in this post-Climbie era over what to do about our
increasingly stretched child protection services.

The latest idea is to rope in the voluntary sector. Children’s
minister Margaret Hodge told a conference last week that the sector
could be the answer to the recruitment crisis among child
protection social workers.

Her announcement follows former health secretary Alan Milburn’s
call to “bring the voluntary sector in from the cold” and for
charities to be much more involved in the public sector, offering a
“third way” alongside statutory and private provision.

But it’s one thing to suggest improved partnership working between
the statutory and voluntary sectors, but quite another to start
down a road that could lead to charities taking over huge chunks of
state provision.

Hodge admitted her plan is still at an early stage but children’s
charities seem to have been taken by surprise and their initial
reaction has been cool to say the least. Up until now only the
NSPCC has employed child protection social workers and it’s a big
step to extend this role to others.

The voluntary sector is, of course, concerned about upsetting its
delicate relationship with clients, which is based on the premise
that it is different from – and separate to – the statutory sector.
And it is hardly surprising that voluntary groups are treating the
suggestion with suspicion. When the children’s green paper was
published the sector barely had a mention. Now it is being hailed
as some sort of saviour.

No wonder people are questioning whether the full implications of
these ideas have been thought through. Is child protection really a
suitable experimenting ground? And why haven’t the children’s
voluntary organisations been consulted about this?

As things stand, who could blame them for not rushing forward to
grasp this particular poisoned chalice, especially when they will
be the ones left to take the rap if things go wrong.

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