Applause for Welsh framework

The children’s national service framework in Wales, published last week, has one thing in common with its English equivalent – its immense size. But that seems to be where the comparisons end.

The English NSF, published in September 2004, was met with widespread scepticism because of its lack of targets and the fact its standards were open to interpretation. In contrast, the Welsh assembly government has been almost universally praised for its version.

With 21 quality standards and 205 key actions, 82 of which have been flagged to be delivered within six months, the NSF outlines the assembly government’s vision for services across the sector over the next 10 years.

Although some of the standards simply reiterate commitments from other strategy documents, this in itself is important, says Dr Sam Clutton, research and policy officer for Barnardo’s Wales.

She says: “What this does is pull together a lot of things that have been in other documents but have not been taken forward enough.”

However, other parts of the NSF are far more ambitious. This is particularly the case with child protection measures and its standards on information-sharing across health, education and social care.

It stipulates that local authorities, local health boards and NHS trusts should have a lead senior manager responsible for implementing child protection procedures.

All social services departments must have a named child protection co-ordinator to monitor the living arrangements of those on the child protection register. When a child moves to another area, co-ordinators will have to inform their equivalents in receiving authorities within two days and pass on records within 10 days. The receiving council must inform other agencies of the child’s appearance within 24 hours.

Dr Clutton says this focus on accountability is what sets the Welsh NSF apart from its English counterpart.

“With 21 standards and 205 key actions you have lots of accountability and measurables there – it’s distinct from the English model.”

Simon Jones, policy adviser for Wales at the NSPCC, says the NSF is “incredibly positive and ambitious” in its emphasis on child protection, and likens its standards for named, responsible professionals to similar measures in the Children Act 2004.

“It’s a huge step forward to have that named person within 22 local authorities to communicate with each other because we do have lots of out-of-authority placements. We also need to look at communication with the English border authorities because we do get placements from there,” he adds.

Jones also praises the assembly government for bringing education under the auspices of the NSF – responding to concerns highlighted by Welsh children’s commissioner Peter Clarke last year in the Clwych Inquiry into child abuse at a Pontypridd school.

Jones says: “All organisations need to be aware of safeguarding issues when they are planning services and that they [must] share information.”

Beverlea Frowen, head of policy at the Welsh Local Government Association, says the NSF will help information-sharing and communication between statutory services – it stipulates all bodies must appoint a lead director responsible for co-ordinating services – but warns there still needs to be a culture change in local government.

She says: “Because of the history of NSFs there is a perception it is a strategic document that will be led by the health service so we still have some work to do there. But it is putting safeguarding measures in place to prevent children falling through the gaps in services.”

Her one word of warning concerns funding. While Frowen says the NSF will not require extra resources in its first year, she says it is unclear how some of the longer term key actions will be implemented. The WLGA is pushing for a review of funding in the sector so that all parties to the NSF can pool resources to meet its objectives.

“There’s no pot of gold attached to the NSF and we’re not there yet with a whole systems approach to funding,” she adds. 

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