Michael Gove, the minister responsible for child protection and safeguarding, has admitted that the focus of his department has shifted to education from wider children’s services issues.
Gove has been appointed as secretary of state in the Department for Education which replaces the Department for Children, Schools and Families – a name change some sector leaders believe will emphasise the sidelining of social care issues.
The education secretary said in a letter to civil servants: “There is, I believe, nothing more important to the fairness of our society and the future prosperity of our country than getting education right.
“To help us achieve the radical reforms that we need I want to refocus the department on its core purpose of supporing teaching and learning.”
The letter failed to directly mention social care or child protection at all – despite the fact the new DfE will continue to cover the same services as the DCSF.
Gove did, however, state: “School reform will be our priority but schools only succeed when society is strong, which is why we will also strengthen and reform children’s services.”
Paul Fallon, consultant and independent safeguarding board chair, said: “At worst, the government are perpetuating the swamping of services for children in greatest need and letting education take priority.
“At best, the government has just forgotten about the needs of the most needy children, though hopefully they will remember before we get another Baby P.”
Kevin Williams, chief executive of the Adolescent and Children’s Trust, said: “It is a concern that he hasn’t mentioned child protection or social care early on. We feel that if there are cutbacks in the social care sector, it could lead to problems in the future.”
Williams said that it was early days, however, and he was confident Gove would come out with a stronger stance on social care issues.
Others in the sector were concerned about the name change itself.
“I think it’s quite symbolic that the name change looses focus on children and families,” said Kevin Gallagher, chief executive of the Bryn Melyn Group. “The new name talks about the services rather than the people the services are there to support.”
Some said that it was too soon to tell what Gove’s priorities will be.
“It would be presumptuous to start drawing conclusions about what they’re going to do,” said Enver Solomon, Barnardo’s assistant director of policy and research. “I do think the new team needs to reassure people that there isn’t going to be a de-prioritisation of safeguarding or children’s social services though, because the name change could confuse that.”
David Holmes, chief executive of British Association for Adoption and Fostering, said the name change was insignificant.
“I’m more interested in what the government is going to do than what it calls itself,” he said.
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