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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