Signs of hope for Bill

    The passage of the Children Bill through parliament is not just a
    test of the government’s resolve to protect children and promote
    their welfare. It is also a test of the means it has chosen to
    achieve these objectives. The pros and cons of the decision to move
    responsibility for children’s social care from the Department of
    Health to the Department for Education and Skills will only become
    clear as the new legislation takes effect. How social care fares in
    an education framework will depend on the final form of the bill as
    it goes for royal assent.

    This week there were promising signs in the House of Lords, where
    the bill has been going through the report stage, that the
    government was willing to back down from some of its more
    controversial positions. One of them was its decision to table
    amendments to give the children’s commissioner more independence, a
    welcome move despite children’s minister Margaret Hodge’s claim
    that there was still no need for the commissioner to be involved in
    individual complaints because enough remedies were already in
    place. None of these alleged alternative remedies are sufficient
    because, unlike the commissioner, they do not put children first.
    Still, even if the commissioner is only given the power to put some
    children first in some circumstances, greater independence will be
    a significant advance.

    The government also seems to have relaxed its former determination
    to keep youth justice separate from the mainstream children’s
    agenda. While the Youth Justice Board remains parked somewhat
    uncomfortably in the Home Office, it is now expected that youth
    offending teams will be a compulsory part of children’s trusts
    rather than an optional extra as earlier mooted. This is a
    significant victory for the DfES which lost the battle with home
    secretary David Blunkett to have youth justice moved away from the
    punitive approach of his department to a more welfarist approach to

    The preventive work of youth offending teams will be enhanced
    within children’s trusts where they can be an integral part of the
    planning and delivery of services. It is essential that young
    people at risk of offending are given opportunities to put their
    lives back on track. The Children Bill is beginning to look like a
    worthy vehicle for this aim.

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