What’s the plan?

Over the past 15 years, there have been many requirements on councils to produce plans for children’s social care needs. Yet another plan is outlined in the Children Act 2004, but will it succeed where the others have failed?

The purpose of the children and young people’s plans (CYPP) is to create seamless front-line services – multi-disciplinary, co-located teams of professionals based in extended schools and children’s centres. In a CYPP, council and partner agencies will set out a strategy for how they will deliver services. Councils are required to publish the plans by the education secretary under section 17 of the act, but schools and teachers, along with other key providers such as GPs, have no legal duty to co-operate.

Guidance on CYPPs is due in April 2006 when they replace 19 existing statutory plans, including children’s services plans. Meanwhile, the Department for Education and Skills’ Guidance on the Children and Young People’s Plan suggests that local partners will come together through children’ trusts to fulfil certain tasks (see “Steps for local partners”, below).
But what can we learn from past experiences?

The NHS and Community Care Act 1990 required local authorities and health authorities to publish their community care plans yearly. Some authorities included children and young people in the plans, others ignored them, and some responded to the recommendation in a 1992 Department of Health circular that separate children’s services plans be drawn up.

Attempts at co-ordinated planning conflicted with the Conservative government’s use of market approaches to welfare. Also, local decision-making marginalised the plans, which were also perceived as a drain on managers’ time and resources rather than an opportunity to develop a whole systems approach. They were discontinued in 2001.

In 1996, the government amended the Children Act 1989 to require local authorities to plan children’s services, to consult widely with other agencies and to publish the resulting children’s services plans by 1997. Like community care plans, there is little evidence these current plans managed to shape local strategies, even though the Labour government appeared to favour a partnership approach to service planning and delivery. Little is known about the ways in which children’s services plans developed locally because they were not examined by the Department of Health. Such evidence as there is suggests that they have been narrow in focus and suffer from a weak interagency base.

A more recent experience comes from the single education plan. Twelve LEAs piloted the plans from April 2004, which were evaluated by Ofsted last October. While single education plans are more confined to local education authority responsibilities, the Ofsted report does consider the wider strategic planning picture. Some positive findings are reported: there is said to be a greater coherence of the planning process, more collaboration between officers from different council departments and a clear demonstration of the potential of a single-plan approach.

But these positive findings are outweighed by a list of difficulties that are similar to the planning experiences of the 1990s. With education, social care and health showing little awareness of each other’s objectives, and with little or no joint planning on the ground, Ofsted casts doubt on whether local authorities will be able to produce coherent and costed CYPPs, and calls for a longer lead-in time to address cultural differences and ways of working and to involve partners in the requisite planning process.

But there are some important differences that make success more likely with CYPPs. The most obvious is the legislative infrastructure of the Children Act 2004.

There is also the move towards a whole-system approach to planning that stems from recognition of the “community leadership” role of local government. The first step was the introduction of local public service agreements in 2000 under which central and local government voluntarily agreed to tougher performance targets to deliver improved local outcomes and contribute towards the achievement of national aims.

The second development is local area agreements that bring together funding streams from the whole of the public sector. The agreements are between government, the local authority and other major delivery partners in an area, all working through the local strategic partnership.

Importantly for CYPPs, the local area agreements are structured around three main “partnership blocks” – safer and stronger communities, healthier communities and older people, and children and young people. The results will be set out in the local area agreement for the local authority and, from 2006, in the CYPP.

But the changes have been accompanied by limited additional funding, and rely for their success upon the actions of a wide range of agencies and professionals whose commitment cannot be assumed. Indeed, it is at the level of professional and inter-professional activity -Êrather than at the level of interagency children’s trusts – that the real implementation difficulties arise. The effectiveness of CCYPs will rely on front-line staff finding ways of working with key providers such as schools and GPs that have no duty to co-operate.

Bob Hudson is visiting professor of partnership studies in the school of applied social sciences, University of Durham, and is an adviser on partnership and integration issues to the House of Commons education and skills select committee.

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All local authorities will soon have to produce strategic plans for children and young people’s services. This is a major interagency challenge that is crucial to the success of the Every Child Matters reforms. This article looks at the nature of the planning obligations and at previous experiences of similar plans and considers the extent to which the new arrangements will succeed.

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Steps for local partners

The guidance for the CYPP outlines the following steps for councils and partner agencies when drawing up a plan:

  • Compare local outcomes for children and young people with the national picture.
  • Look at outcomes for particular groups of young people, such as those with disabilities or from ethnic minorities.
  • Use this data and draw on the views of children, young people and their families, local communities and front-line staff to analyse needs.
  • Agree on the nature and scale of the local challenge, identify the resources available and set priorities for action.
  • Plan the pattern of service most likely to secure priority outcomes, considering how fast resources can be shifted into prevention and early intervention.
  • Decide together how best to purchase or provide services from statutory, voluntary or private providers.
  • Plan to pool budgets and resources to enable joint commissioning.
  • Plan workforce development and other changes in local processes and ways of working necessary to support delivery.
  • Monitor and review services to ensure they are working to deliver the ambitions set out for them.

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