The power of three

    Across England councils are busily appointing directors of children’s services who will oversee children’s social care and education in time for the April 2006 deadline.

    Figures from the IDeA, from July, show that 99 of England’s 150 councils have appointed to the post.

    Most have decided to split their children’s and adult services and appoint a separate director for adult services. But three London councils – Ealing, Westminster and Corporation of London – have chosen to buck the national trend and appoint one director with statutory responsibilities for both children and adults.

    Initially plans to separate children’s services from adult services were met with the concern that it would weaken the link between services that many people have worked hard to strengthen.

    Although for some that fear remains, most councils are aware of the risks and are redesigning services with measures built-in to prevent problems occurring, according to the IDeA.

     Given the creation of the role of director of children’s services was driven in part by a desire for a renewed emphasis on accountability, following Lord Laming’s criticisms of managers during his inquiry into Victoria Climbie’s death, who would choose to take  on statutory responsibility for both children and adults services?

    Julie JonesJulie Jones began her job as deputy chief executive children and community services at Westminster Council in June. She is responsibile for housing, lifelong learning, education and adult and children’s social care, has 1,100 staff working for her, and has six service directors reporting to her. “It is not a model that would suit everyone,” she admits, but although she is responsible for a broad range of services she insists it is “entirely do-able.”

    Behind the decision to model services so they are headed by one person is the desire to maintain the quality of services. “We are a strong CPA authority with a very strong managerial performance. We did not feel we were at the point where we could stop the world and get off. We want to continue building on what we have. We will eventually have a children’s services director and one for adults but in the meantime we are organising things like this.”

    She says having the services alongside each other will keep them “stitched” together, adding for example that the outcomes for children have been highly dependent on their housing. She says she does not want disconnected sets of services. “We have spent time building these connections and we are not ready to just stop.”

    Jenny Goodall is taking on the role of community and children’s services director at Corporation of London Council in October after six years as director of social services at Brent Council where she had responsibility for 795 staff.

    Her job combines responsibilities for children’s education and social care, education and social care for adults, housing and, unusually, sports development. She wants to make it clear that the job did not appeal to her specifically because it keeps adults and children’s services together.

    More interesting, she says, was the opportunity to work within a very different council. “The job offers the opportunity to work across all the care groups, as well as responsibility for a range of services in a very different sort of organisation,” she says.

    Moving from Brent, which has a population of 300,000, compared with the 7,000 in Corporation of London – although that swells considerably with the addition of more than 300,000 people who travel into the borough daily for work – will certainly provide a change.

    The local authority’s unique characteristics – it covers just one square mile and is the local education authority for a single primary school – means whoever took on a role of director of children’s services would have had a small brief. The social services department only employs 45 people.

    There is no director of education currently but a city education officer who, in addition to handling one state primary school, takes responsibility for the handful of independent schools.

    Given its size, placing one person in charge of a range of services was undoubtedly a practical measure and should not present an overwhelming set of responsibilities. Goodall says having services under the charge of one person “clearly makes a difference”.

    But she adds that even when services are based in a single department there is still a need for protocols to ensure they are joined-up. She explains that one area where there are often complaints is around the lack of joined-up thinking .

    In Ealing David Archibald is executive director for individuals. He has four directors reporting to him, for housing and environment, adult social care, children and families and schools services.

    Before he joined the council in May, Archibald was director of East Sussex social services. He says that the thinking behind linking the services together is that they will have the common thread of individualised care. “There was a view that there was synergy between these different functions.”

    He adds that there is both “logic and benefits” to keeping adults’ and children’s social care together, particularly when it comes to issues such as how to manage transition. “For Ealing the view was that it was more advantageous to keep services together in one directorate because we felt it would offer the best opportunity to implement the Children Act,” says Archibald.

    Although he is statutory director for children’s services, Archibald says the success of his role, given its breadth, is dependent on high-quality people managing the services.

    Just a few months into their new roles, it is too early to tell how successful the arrangements chosen by these three councils will be or whether the range of responsibilities will prove tricky to manage. But other councils are bound to be watching with interest.

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