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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