Front line sags in backroom battles

In the past 40 years we have placed considerable faith in the
ability of new laws and procedures to do a better job of protecting
children. Yet inquiries still continue into the serious abuse and
death of children whose circumstances were already known to public

If implemented with a real commitment to change, the present
package of legislative and policy proposals could protect children
better. But realising the promise of Every Child Matters
depends on avoiding the pitfalls.

Most important will be the ability to put the views and needs of
children and young people before organisational issues. There must
be a commitment to whole system change, with the highest priority
given to front-line services.

But the twin developments of enabling structural change in the
creation of children’s trusts and creating the new post of director
of children’s services will result in considerable upheaval and
cost. I fear that too much time, energy and resources will be spent
on reorganisation, diverting attention from where Lord Laming
identified the greatest effort was needed: improving effectiveness
at the front line.

In her evidence to Lord Laming, one social worker talked about
“conveyor belt social work”, which emphasised getting cases through
the system and meeting targets. How often do organisations make
demands on front-line staff without asking how relevant these are
to their key purposes? When social workers at Barnardo’s were asked
what single action would make them feel better supported, they said
it was having their manager’s skills more readily available.

As well as supporting staff, we have to improve retention and
transferability between the different disciplines within the
children’s workforce. Diverse patterns of training must be
explored, and the pay and rewards structure reviewed.

Culture change is a great thing to talk about, but tangible action
must accompany it if the necessary shift is to happen. We must
organise services primarily to support and enable competent and
quality work at the front-line. Only then can we dare to hope that
we will never need another Laming Inquiry.

Roger Singleton is chief executive of Barnardo’s.

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