‘We’ve Got To Be Different’

Cambridgeshire Council can be forgiven for puffing up its chest and
having, well, for want of a better word, a big head. It believes
that it is on the road to enlightenment in terms of its
children’s services and is proud of its efforts.


The council is among those few local authorities well on the way to
meeting the government’s requirement for there to be
children’s trusts established in all areas by 2008. There is
no statutory requirement for councils to do this, but the
government has made it clear that their services will be inspected
on the basis of a degree of joint working and partnership only
possible under a children’s trust framework.


Cambridgeshire began work on integrating its children’s
services in the summer of 2003. Although it steers clear of calling
the expected outcome of its organisational and cultural change a
“children’s trust”, the goal of Cambridgeshire
Children and Young People’s Strategic Partnership is exactly
what the government anticipates local authorities will achieve. The
group comprises 21 organisations and includes social services,
district councils, primary care trusts and voluntary bodies (see
panel). Its aim is simple: to improve the well-being of children
and young people in Cambridgeshire from pre-birth to 19.


So far four consultation documents have been issued to relevant
stakeholders about the group’s plans and consultation
meetings have taken place with children, young people and their
parents and carers. In one consultation document, Ian Stewart,
chair of the partnership, writes that it will take many years for
these changes to be fully implemented and for children, young
people and their families to realise the full benefits. “We
have begun a challenging journey,” he says.


Over the next couple of months the partnership’s formal
proposals will be presented to the council’s decision-making
bodies and its partner agencies. A two-year transition plan is due
to commence in April and by this time senior managers within the
council’s children and young people’s services are
expected to be in post. By April 2006, Cambridgeshire expects to
have completely integrated its children’s services. There is
little doubt that the plans are ambitious – so what do the staff
think about the process and what do they hope to


Robinson, director of social services and children’s services

Eric Robinson, Cambridgeshire’s director of social services
and children’s services development, is a man with a plan. In
fact, a sizeable chunk of this plan is scrawled in red marker on
the white board hanging in his office at county hall. His eyes
light up when he explains why Cambridgeshire started integrating
children’s services before the government advised councils to
do so. “If you actually believe the rhetoric of building
services around the needs of children and young people then you
have to do something different to deliver that, otherwise it is all
fine words and no action,” he says.


Robinson was recruited from Enfield Council in 2003 to run social
services, with a specific duty to lead the integration agenda.
Cambridgeshire was already in the process of integrating its adult
services with health services and this laid the foundations for
adapting those for children. As well as the strategic partnership,
a children’s task group was established, which Robinson


Robinson describes Cambridgeshire’s consultation process as
“the most elaborate” he has been involved with during
his 10-year experience of strategic change management. The approach
seems to be paying off, he says, as most practitioners and agencies
back the development. “This is about hearts and minds,”
he says. “These are public servants who came to do something
different for children. What this debate should be about is how
they can do what they came into the job to do.”


The biggest challenge the authority faces over the next 18 months
is “keeping the show on the road and managing the change at
the same time”. Not surprisingly, Robinson has little doubt
that this can be achieved.


Baxter, director of education, libraries and

Cambridgeshire Council is responsible for 253 schools, including
nine special schools. It is the education professionals working
with children at risk or with special needs who have most welcomed
the plans to integrate children’s services, says Andrew
Baxter. This is because they already strive to work effectively
with their health and social services colleagues, he


Baxter says an integrated service with one department, one budget
and one assessment process will mean that time won’t be
wasted on bureaucratic arguments. “We can get on with the
professional job of making the best possible provision for the


For Baxter the real test of whether or not the integration proves
successful will be if head teachers receive the support they need
to respond efficiently to the needs of the more vulnerable
children. “If we are successful with this then the group of
children who are underachieving at the moment will begin to be able
to achieve more,” he says.


Baxter is confident that education professionals will get better at
referral and assessment but he is anxious for safeguards to be put
in place to ensure that education continues to perform well in
areas where it already does so.


Tom Jefford,
head of youth offending

Having doughnuts in team meetings will not persuade staff that
Cambridgeshire’s plans are going to work. This is the
conclusion of head of youth offending Tom Jefford.


“It is about slowly establishing trust and moving forward at
a pace that people feel comfortable with, which isn’t always
going to be easy.” He says professionals will need to suspend
their anxieties and “just go with it”.


Jefford has worked for Cambridgeshire since 1993, when he joined as
a juvenile justice worker. In 1998 the council’s youth
offending team was created and he saw the amount of effort it took
to build new relationships with other agencies. The current moves
towards integration are a major step forward, he says.


Integrating children’s services could have a positive effect
on the work of Jefford’s 45-strong team. He says there will
be important gains in the ability to identify children who are at
risk of offending.


While some people are “feeling brave” about the
impending change, Jefford admits that others are


But who are the most hesitant, those at the top or those on the
front line? Jefford says that people’s job titles have little
to do with it; practitioners and managers are equally nervous about
the changes or in favour of them.


So what is Jefford’s worst case scenario? “That we
concentrate on the stuff in the middle rather than the hard edge of
child protection or the very focused activity that specialist
services need to have and are accountable for,” he


Fiona Van Den
Hout, senior social worker, children and families

Whether social workers will even have a job after the changes is
one of the key concerns for Fiona Van Den Hout. As a senior social
worker in the children and family support section of Cambridge City
children’s team, her fears are understandable. “You
feel like you are standing on the edge of an abyss. People are
thinking ‘am I going to have a job, will my role be the


While Van Den Hout supports the integration of services for
children and families she admits that she and her colleagues gasped
with surprise when they heard the plans: “It was a huge
concept to imagine.”


But she backs the move, saying that it builds upon the good
practice already being done across the county. The biggest benefit
of changing how practitioners operate, according to Van Den Hout,
will be improved lines of communication.


So what does she hope to gain from the experience? She is keen to
build on her relationships with other agencies and to learn more
about their roles and responsibilities. But social workers, she
says, do worry about the impact the change will have on them.
“On a personal level it’s ‘where am I going to be
based, who am I going to be sitting next to?’” says Van
Den Hout.


Despite these concerns she is confident that those on the front
line will be ready and able to deliver the new form of services:
“Social work is nothing if it’s not about managing and
enabling change.”



Members of the Cambridgeshire Children and Young People’s
Strategic Partnership:

  • Cambridgeshire social services

  • Cambridgeshire youth offending service

  • Cambridgeshire local education authority

  • Huntingdonshire Council

  • South Cambridgeshire Council

  • Cambridge City Council

  • East Cambridgeshire Council

  • Fenland Council

  • East Cambridge and Fenland primary care trust

  • Huntingdonshire PCT

  • South Cambridgeshire and Cambridge City PCT

  • Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Connexions

  • Cambridgeshire police

  • Hunts forum of voluntary organisations

  • Learning and skills council

  • Child and adolescent mental health trust

  • Addenbrookes NHS trust

  • Cambridgeshire area child protection committee

  • Cambridgeshire council for voluntary youth services

  • Cambridgeshire care and education partnership

  • Cambridgeshire fire service

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