A clash of cultures?

    When the transformation of children’s services began, with the
    move of children’s social care to the Department for Education and
    Skills in 2003, fears that social care experience and values would
    lose influence were suppressed while social care’s policy players
    built relationships with the new hierarchy in government.

    Now, local children’s services are being pulled into the new
    structures needed to meet the ambitions of Every Child Matters and
    the requirements of the Children Act 2004. The fears of social
    care’s representatives about the implications of dictating local
    structures were not heeded. Now, some are getting worried.

    The scale of the change is huge, bringing correspondingly huge
    risks and challenges for those who lead it locally: the new
    directors of children’s services. Most of these are former
    directors of education, not social services – an inevitable
    imbalance given that two former posts (social services and
    education) are being abolished in favour of two new ones (adults
    and children) and most former education directors are qualified to
    fill only one of these.

    As the directors start to settle in, fears are increasingly
    being voiced. Chief among these is the view that former education
    directors do not have sufficient experience and understanding of
    child protection.

    Mary Marsh, NSPCC chief executive, says: “People whose
    responsibility has solely been education will not have the child
    protection antennae that switch on in every situation.”

    David Hawker, former director of education and now director of
    children, families and schools at Brighton and Hove Council,
    admits: “First of all nobody trusted me in terms of child
    protection for understandable reasons. It was about having
    assistant directors who had that background and expertise and who
    could advise me.

    Over the first year or so I gained in confidence and
    understanding.” Kevin Crompton, director of children’s services in
    Solihull, also accepts that he had a lot to learn. He worked
    closely with Solihull’s outgoing director of social services,
    Michael Hake, in his first 18 months in the job. He adds: “Anyone
    appointed director of children’s services will have to ensure they
    have within their structure the expertise to ensure all the
    functions can be effectively managed. This is a strategic
    role.”

    It could as easily be argued that a director from a social
    services background would have to learn about working with schools.
    But ignorance is more dangerous in child protection, as Jeni
    Bremner, programme director at the Local Government Association,
    points out. “The risk is more immediate and the level of risk is
    different.” She adds: “Of course it’s important to have strong
    assistant directors in education and child protection, but the
    director of children’s services needs to understand the culture and
    structures they need to create in the department to keep children
    safe and to increase educational achievement.”

    Several commentators warn against underestimating the degree of
    cultural difference between social services and education.
    Education has had more of a “command and control” structure, says
    one: not necessarily beneficial for child protection because
    independent professional judgement is so crucial – and so risky.
    One commentator says: “If you tell a director of social services
    they have to do something, and they think it will put kids at risk,
    they tell you to bugger off. If you tell a director of education to
    do something, they do it.”

    John Coughlan, who chairs the children and families committee of
    the Association of Directors of Social Services, agrees: “Senior
    managers in social services are more used to being the
    buck-stopping point.”

    Despite all this, Coughlan is aware that the record of top
    management in social services is not unblemished – quite the
    opposite. Caroline Abraham, director of public policy at NCH, is
    also clear that being the sole “experts” has been an unbearable
    burden at times. “Social care has been too much the guardian of
    child protection in localities and left to get on with it.”

    Chris Hanvey, UK director of operations for Barnardo’s, is
    enthusiastic about the contribution of former education directors.
    “It’s a very steep learning curve. But one of the strengths of
    children’s centres and the location of a lot of services within an
    education setting is that it’s non-stigmatising. You could have
    done it either in GP surgeries or in schools. The government has
    chosen to do it largely through schools. And I’m not sure whether
    social services’ track record would justify criticising services
    being delivered through schools.”

    However, schools have not been subject to the same demands from
    government on safeguarding children as have social services and the
    police. Marsh says: “I have been concerned about the lack of
    emphasis on schools being on the front line of safeguarding
    children and the lack of a duty on schools to safeguard children.
    It’s not seen as being mainstream for schools in a way that it
    should be.”

    This is further evidence that education directors lack
    understanding and experience on safeguarding children. On the other
    hand, they could be the best people to ensure that schools – which
    are largely independent of local authorities – now come into the
    fold. Hawker says: “The biggest danger is if schools are regarded
    as separate from the children’s agenda.”

    Within the DfES too, many complain, collaboration between the
    schools directorate and the children, young people and families
    directorate is weak. Hawker says the focus on parental choice in
    education undermines the view that schools should serve whole
    communities. “The government has created problems by over-promoting
    the parental choice agenda over the community links agenda.”

    For Honor Rhodes, director of family and community care at the
    Family Welfare Association (FWA), the emphasis on schools is
    unhelpful for many families. “Schools are good at dealing with
    children but less good at dealing with families. Many parents find
    schools very difficult. Schools are the one place they won’t go for
    help.”

    She is concerned that a director of children’s services who
    regards extended schools and children’s centres as “the answer” may
    undervalue family centres and engagement with families in their
    homes. She cites the example of a woman in her early 30s who has
    fled domestic violence and has serious mental health problems. Her
    eldest boy of 14 has committed offences and her other children,
    aged nine and five, have troubled behaviour and have been referred
    to mental health services. She has been referred to a day centre
    but will not go because it is full of older men smoking. She
    doesn’t want parenting classes. FWA staff visit from 7am, and in
    the evenings bath the children and put them to bed, giving “family
    therapy on the hoof”.

    Rhodes says: “Will a children’s services director post help that
    woman get what she needs? At the moment I don’t believe it. In
    places where there is no vibrant voluntary sector she won’t get
    anything. If she’s in an authority where everything becomes
    schools-based, she won’t be engaged. Why would services for her
    family be prioritised when an extended school could buy something
    with more profile? Why not run a healthy eating club, or adult
    education? I don’t mind who the director of children’s services is.
    But I would like them to be mindful of the whole family and I think
    that may be less likely with an educationalist.”

    Abraham shares some of Rhodes’s concerns. “What matters is to
    hold on to why we are doing it in the first place,” she says. “My
    overriding worry is that we could lose some of the softer, family
    support bits of the agenda.” Coughlan says: “The way to deliver
    preventive family support work is through the voluntary sector.”
    The trouble is, this feeds into yet another major concern about the
    new structures: a perceived lack of commissioning and contracting
    experience among education directors. One voluntary sector chief
    executive says: “I used to moan about the way directors of social
    services did contracting, but that was before I worked with
    directors of education.”

    Abraham describes this as “a completely understandable concern”.
    Bremner thinks so too. So does Marsh, who says: “I’m not clear that
    people who have solely worked in the education field are
    sufficiently in touch with what’s required in a multi-agency,
    commissioning environment.”

    Abraham echoes Rhodes’s fears about extended schools. “The role
    for schools is not yet clear. It might involve commissioning. There
    is potential for fragmentation if the strategic role of the
    director and the children’s trust are not strong enough. In some
    areas schools are coming together to overcome some of these
    problems. It’s hard for voluntary organisations to make
    relationships with individual schools.”

    However strong the concerns are, it is equally significant that
    they have not undermined commitment to the objectives of Every
    Child Matters.

    And the people already doing the job are ready to prove that it
    works. Hawker and Crompton say morale among social workers in their
    departments is improving. Hawker says: “When we put children’s
    social care together with education we immediately started to see
    the benefits in terms of a new image. Social workers are valued
    more than before and support for families is centre stage.
    Children’s social work previously came to the fore only when
    something went horribly wrong. A better image means resources flow
    into the service.”

    Crompton echoes this. “We have a project here with extra funding
    from members called Transforming Children’s Services, aimed at
    improving the morale of our social workers by tackling issues that
    were affecting recruitment and retention.”

    Solihull has introduced family support workers in schools, and
    an advisory teacher has been appointed to work with looked-after
    children. Crompton says: “This had been suggested before and
    everyone thought it was a good idea. But it could happen now
    because I could decide what budget it was paid from.” Advisers on
    special educational needs who work with schools have had the task
    of producing educational plans for looked-after children written
    into their job descriptions.

    Too much is still unknown to judge whether the fears of many in
    children’s social care will be justified. But it’s undoubtedly time
    to bring the debate into the open. As Abraham says: “There are huge
    pressures on many things social care stands for. The voluntary
    sector has to jump up and down. Social care needs to make sure the
    values about listening to children and engaging with families are
    at the forefront. We have to make sure that happens.”

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