Letters to Community Care, 21 January 2010

Len Clark’s public dressing down of Birmingham director Colin Tucker was wrong

Was I the only reader to raise my eyebrows at Birmingham councillor Len Clark’s intemperate attack on his director of children’s services, Colin Tucker (news, 7 January)?

Three months ago someone called Len Clark wrote in an introduction to an official report on Birmingham’s social services: “Unfortunately, Birmingham’s children’s social care service has a history of underperformance over the past decade.

“The difficulties in children’s social care are systemic and deeply ingrained so there is no quick fix. We need to face up now to the task of getting things right for the future. Whilst there is a need for urgent action in the short term to deal with the most pressing issuesif the fundamental performance issues highlighted in this report are not addressed purposefully it is unlikely that the short-term improvements made will be sustained.”

That Len Clark was right. If the director of social services says sickness absenteeism due to stress is a problem, why should councillor Clark now seek to publicly humiliate him? He will know that statutory guidance charges social services directors with “ensuring there are sufficient financial, human and other resources available to discharge the authority’s statutory functions and maintain service standards in the future”.

If sickness absenteeism due to stress affects that duty, surely councillor Clark should discuss with his director how to address that challenge instead of shooting the messenger. Alternatively, he could speak to his party’s shadow cabinet about its plans to radically cut spending, which would make matters worse.

Roger Kline, trade union official, Aspect

Importance of Sure Start outreach

Sure Start plays a vital role in providing early years services but simply locating children’s centres in the most deprived areas is not enough to ensure the participation of the most disadvantaged groups.

Most children’s centres are run by local authorities. The National Audit Office has found that too few are employing outreach workers to target vulnerable groups (the hard-to-reach families who don’t use children’s centres are arguably the families who need services the most).

The role of these workers is based on encouraging parents to understand what children’s centres can provide and the benefits of accessing them – but these families need more than that. Many need intensive home-based provision to support self-development and parenting before they can access mainstream services.

Parents with mental health problems or learning difficulties may have poor self-esteem and lack the confidence to mix outside the home. Without support they may be unable to develop the household routines necessary for attending timetabled activities. Children on the receiving end of unresponsive or aggressive parenting may develop behaviour that makes it impossible for them to mix positively with other people’s children.

In our experience family support workers need to help parents and children to overcome these difficulties before they can avail themselves of all the opportunities that Sure Start presents.

Where we succeed the rewards go beyond the immediate outcomes of safeguarding the child and assuring his or her development. Once a parent takes the step to attend a centre with their child they grow in confidence. Many take on volunteering roles in our services and prepare for further training, or employment, helping them to fight poverty and social exclusion.

However, we need to see increased investment in home-based services as well as outreach services if we are serious about children’s centres achieving all this for vulnerable families and their children. For this we also need more recognition from all the political parties and local authorities that, if we are to protect and help the most vulnerable children, first we must start with their parents.

Helen Dent, chief executive, Family Action

High salaries and a Barnardo’s paradox

Simon Watson of Barnardo’s rightly points out the evils of inequality (Letters, 7 January). But how does Barnardo’s nationwide square this with the very high salaries of its top managers which reinforce financial inequality?

Bob Holman, Glasgow

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