‘How do we stop children from being looked after?’

One month into his job as head of Baaf Adoption and Fostering, David Holmes has firm ideas about reforms to children’s services. Simeon Brody reports

David Holmes, the new chief executive of Baaf Adoption and Fostering, has a tough act to follow.

Despite retiring from the role three months ago, Felicity Collier was still making her presence felt at last month’s Community Care LIVE with an intervention on looked-after children and parental drug misuse.

“Felicity Collier did a great job but there’s just so much more to do,” says Holmes, who joined the charity from Haringey Council, London, where he was deputy director of children’s services.

He previously worked in central government on child protection, adoption and looked-after children teams.

Less than a month into the job, he appears keen to put his own stamp on the organisation by looking at the whole system for supporting looked-after children and emphasising the importance of preventive services.

“You can expect lots of thinking from Baaf about how we can change services for looked-after children – thoughtful work, which I hope will have Baaf looking at how the whole system will work and how we can bring about lasting change,” he says.

Holmes believes now is the perfect time to think holistically about children in care, with a green paper expected in the autumn.

While the paper is expected to focus on raising the educational attainment of looked-after children, Holmes advocates a “much bigger think”.

“If you really want to consider how this huge care system might operate differently in future then you have to look at all aspects of it, not just bits of it,” he adds.

But his focus stretches beyond the care system to the services designed to prevent children entering it in the first place.

“We need to think really hard about family support and the whole prevention side of the system. How do we stop children from being looked after?” he asks.

This is reflected in his comments on funding.

Holmes says Baaf will be lobbying for more government money for the system in the 2007 spending review. But he appears reluctant to reveal whether he believes ministers will provide the extra 750m that Baaf and the Fostering Network calculate the UK’s fostering services need to bring them up to a decent standard.

He says the charities’ research was very useful in calculating how much a fully funded service would cost, but suggests more debate is also needed about how existing money can be better spent.

The balance of expenditure needs to be shifted over time from care budgets to preventive work and family support, he says. That cannot easily be done in the light of current commitments, but Holmes believes pump-priming resources over the next few years could begin to provoke a realignment of services into family support.

“This is all about moving towards prevention but how do we do that in practice? What are the things you need to change? How would we need to change how money is spent?”

Holmes hopes his experience and insight into how local and central government work will benefit Baaf.

From the perspective of central government, he believes the voluntary sector has “an amazing opportunity” to provide the evidence to government about why changes to services are needed.

And his time in local government has taught him how difficult the challenges facing local authorities wanting to deliver change on the ground really are. Within this context, voluntary sector agencies can support local government to make the necessary changes, he argues.

He may not appear as feisty as his predecessor but Holmes clearly has firm ideas about the lot of vulnerable children and the role Baaf can play in improving it.

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