Children’s minister Baroness Morgan is certain that extra cash pumped into services such as guardians’ body Cafcass will produce results, but equally that statutory services will have to pool resources. Molly Garboden reports
The announcement last month that the government would be investing £23m in England’s social services sparked criticism that it was nowhere near enough to transform the sector. Baroness Delyth Morgan agrees. According to the junior children’s minister, the new money is about practical changes rather than revolutionary thinking.
“What the £23m is about is trying to provide a catalyst for change,” she says. “We know that some local authorities are good at managing demand and supporting their staff, so we want to provide a resource that will give that flexibility for change locally.”
Morgan says helping councils help themselves is the way forward as budgets tighten. The government’s approach to social services has been about encouraging agencies to share knowledge, resources and best practice, she adds.
Although the number of care applications and referrals to children’s social services is increasing, it is not a uniform problem. “Some places in the country are coping well with increased referrals but other places aren’t,” Morgan says.
“We have to transfer experience and knowledge about what’s working across areas. There are places that – by having an effective system, by using an early intervention package that works, or by making sure the difficult cases go straight to a highly trained, expert service – are coping just fine.”
Although it is up to local authorities to prioritise their services, Morgan is keen to emphasise that she feels early intervention is the best way to manage the cost of care. She points to the government’s proposed children and young people’s grant as the start of further efforts to pool budgets to fund more early intervention measures.
She is adamant that changing thresholds is not an option. What is needed is an “animated debate” on ways to do more with current resources. Guardians body Cafcass is the exception to the rule, however. But the recent funding boost of £10m to help clear backlogs has strings attached, she says.
“I expect Cafcass to deliver a high-quality service, given on request, at pretty much a 10% increase in resource provided by the government,” says Morgan. “The additional resource we’ve made available this year in London has resulted in a reduction of the backlog for care proceeding cases.
“What we need to be clear about is that we think they can do a lot better and they do as well. So there is reason to push them and expect more.”
Morgan has also confirmed that the government’s family justice review, which will look at how the system should be improved in the interests of children, will encompass both private and public law systems.
She adds that she has no reason to believe Cafcass will get rid of the named guardian system, after recent allegations that the family courts body is attempting to embed the duty guardian system “by the backdoor” with the new government funding.
“We need to be clear: no one can change a statutory duty other than parliament. So Cafcass’s statutory duties remain in place.”
Biography of a baroness
● 2008: Appointed junior minister with the Department for Children, Schools and Families. Policy areas include safeguarding and child protection, drugs and alcohol, sport and healthy eating.
● 2004: Became a peer while she was chief executive of Breakthrough Breast Cancer (1996-2005).
● Has also held positions of communications director for the National Asthma Campaign, director of the Workplace Nurseries Campaign, and campaigns organiser at Shelter.
Find out more
Watching brief role for new type of guardian https://www.communitycare.co.uk/114228
New grant from 2011 for early intervention work with children https://www.communitycare.co.uk/114164
Cafcass accused of using £10m to embed duty system www.communitycare.co.uk/114125