Time called on the navel-gazers

    Local authority councillors will soon have to decide how to respond
    to the government’s plans for children’s services. They must work
    out how best to create the requested clear lines of accountability
    and how to integrate education and social services. For the moment,
    councils are reacting in several ways.

    Councils that have already brought education and social services
    under the control of a single director are starting to think about
    integrating other services, such as the NHS, while those
    experimenting with children’s trusts or extended schools have
    become cautious about the best way to proceed.

    Some three-star authorities see no reason to disrupt their
    high-performing services and strong partnerships with other
    agencies. Others are waiting for more certainty, not wanting to
    waste energy on development work only to find that government
    guidance will set out the requirements after the children’s trust
    and information-sharing pilots have been evaluated.

    Then there is the “unbudgeable” band of ostriches, heads buried,
    hoping it will all go away and that expectations will be
    downgraded.

    Finally there is a group which has rushed into structural changes
    either because they always like to be the pioneers or because one
    or more of the key directors have left.

    No council can sit on its hands during this critical period: delay
    can lead to inertia; uncertainty can lead to plummeting staff
    morale and directionless services.

    Every future children’s services authority should agree with their
    key partners ways to integrate children’s services. If a decision
    is made not to appoint a director of children’s services until
    2006, education and social services directors must act together in
    that role.

    Establishing new commissioning arrangements will be fundamental to
    the evolving services. Whether they are arrived at formally through
    children’s trusts and pooled budgets, or by aligning budgets and
    closely linking them to outcomes, it is vital that education,
    health and social services quickly understand the approaches each
    other takes and the overlaps that exist.

    The Children Bill has clear objectives that will have a radical
    impact on statutory and voluntary agencies. The time for
    navel-gazing is over.

    Andrew Cozens is president of the Association of Directors
    of Social Services.

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