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

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

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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