The Children Act Obstacle Course

The Children Act 2004 is the best opportunity that most of us
will have in our careers to transform the lives of children. But
while there is a great deal we can be pleased about there are also
significant problems.

First off, councils will face major difficulties in trying to
introduce innovative programmes into mainstream services. The
government has left a huge amount of discretion to local
authorities which will have to juggle demands from children’s
services along with those from other departments.

If “every child matters” is to be meaningful we need a cultural
change to raise the standing of children, children’s services and
work with children. I am not at all convinced that the proposed
system of public service agreements and joint inspection is strong
enough to break down the practical difficulties, and the
institutional and personal resistance to change.

The government has insisted that the children’s commissioner for
England should concern him or herself with the views and interests
of children rather than with their rights, and by allowing
direction from ministers the commissioner’s independence has been
compromised. However, by creating a commissioner the genie has been
allowed to escape from the bottle with no chance of being
recaptured, I hope.

I’m also concerned for the social work profession. Undervalued,
too few in numbers and silent for too long, children’s social
workers need a big boost from the draft children’s workforce
strategy in January. Even if that’s as good as it should be social
workers will need to add their own pressure to ensure that this
Children Act is more successful than its predecessor.

We need more social workers for children but we won’t get them
until they are better paid. Nationally and locally it’s vital that
the profession starts to press politicians for real change.

I don’t believe that we’ll see a transformation of children’s
services without huge pressure and committed advocacy from the
front line. However, we also need much better support from the
public to demand better services. A public campaign that forces
politicians to respond is vital if the Act is to work.

Hilton Dawson is a qualified social worker and MP for
Lancaster & Wyre

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