Walking a tightrope

Changing the balance between protection and prevention in the
approach to families who need support could be dangerous, when – as
this week’s Safeguarding Children report shows – the threshold for
intervention is often already set too high. If Every Child Matters
means new services step in for children left unsupported by local
authorities, that is one thing. If it diverts attention and
resources from child protection, that is quite another. This
concern can only be exacerbated by other current fears: the
possible loss of child protection expertise at the top of the new
local authority departments; the mainstreaming of Sure Start
funding – with efficiency savings already built in; and the
possible alienation of some of the most dangerous families from
services built around extended schools and children’s

The report is clear that the main reason children are left too long
in risky situations before action is taken by social services is
lack of resources. Therefore there can be no diversion of existing
resources into prevention. And there must be greater investment
than planned in the implementation of Every Child Matters, to
ensure an enhanced service overall, which improves protection as
well as prevention and early intervention.

The report also points out that there are still whole categories of
children whose safety is not given sufficient priority. Children
seeking asylum and those who have committed offences still matter
less than others, it seems. Alarmingly, children in care, and
adopted children – despite the government’s drive for more
adoptions – are also among those whose needs are not sufficiently

This report is not overwhelmingly negative, however. It points to
several areas of improvement and shows that awareness of children’s
safety is spreading into universal services. Given the publicity
surrounding the Victoria ClimbiŽ Inquiry and Every Child
Matters, it would be extraordinary if this were not the case.

But it does not paint a reassuring picture given that these
services face fundamental change. There are dangers inherent in
change itself. This is about children’s lives: we can’t afford to
take a step back before we take two steps forward.

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