Councils face struggle to enforce Children Act duty for co-operation

The new legal duty on agencies to co-operate may be unenforceable,
a leading social services lawyer has warned.

Chris Webb-Jenkins, a partner at Midlands law firm Browne Jacobson,
questioned whether “a duty to co-operate means very much in legal
terms” when he addressed a child protection conference last

He said that, if an agency rejected a council’s instruction, he was
uncertain whether it could be forced to co-operate under the notion
of duty.

The Children Act 2004 requires agencies, including youth offending
teams, the police and primary care trusts, to co-operate to improve
children’s well-being.

A Department for Education and Skills spokesperson said: “It would
not have been appropriate, nor do we think it necessary, to give
local authorities the power to give directions to other statutory

“But where local agreement cannot be reached and services are
failing to meet children’s needs, the act includes powers for
government to intervene in education and children’s social care
services. Agencies also have powers to intervene in non-local
authority services for children.”

Chris Waterman, director of the Confederation of Education and
Children’s Services Managers, said he hoped the new inspection
regime would rein in schools concerned only about academic

“Hopefully, some schools will soon be on special measures for not
being inclusive,” he said.

The five outcomes the government wants agencies, including schools,
to achieve for children are: staying safe, being healthy, enjoying
and achieving, making a positive contribution and economic
well-being. The new school inspection process comes into effect in

Waterman said he would be interested in seeing the Ofsted report of
an inspection of a grammar school where 99.9 per cent of pupils
were doing well academically but where there were no child
protection procedures in place.

“That will be the acid test on them [Ofsted] measuring schools on
the outcomes,” he said.

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