Kent split poses Every Child Matters questions

A proposed reorganisation at Kent Council will see the separation of children's services and education, in a move that appears to reverse the integration achieved under Every Child Matters.

Association of Directors of Children’s Services critical of Kent Council’s restructure plan. By Julie Griffiths

A proposed reorganisation at Kent Council will see the separation of children’s services and education, in a move that appears to reverse the integration achieved under Every Child Matters.

Although the director of children’s services’ role will remain in a directorate called families, health and social care, also encompassing adults’ services, the job will no longer sit with education. Schools will be covered by an education, learning and skills directorate with a protocol to be put in place that will ensure the DCS’s statutory accountability is unfettered.

So if Kent’s changes go ahead will other councils follow suit? Is this the end of the Every Child Matters agenda?

Tony Travers, director of the Greater London group at the London School of Economics, answers yes to both. He says the new coalition government implied that Every Child Matters’ twinning of education and children’s services as is no longer necessary when it changed the Department for Children, Schools and Families to the Department of Education.

This view is echoed by Kent itself. Katherine Kerswell, the council’s group managing director, says that although the authority remains committed to the aims of Every Child Matters, all policies are likely to be subject to change.

“Children’s plans are no long required by law,” she says. “Children’s trusts are no longer required by law; the Department for Children, Schools and Families has changed to the Department for Education – surely all that is telling us something?”

She claims the restructure, which is out on consultation at present, is simply looking at an alternative means of delivery, focusing on closer working between health, adults and children’s services.

Although Travers has heard of no other local authority exploring such changes, he does not believe Kent will be alone for long. Many councils found it hard to appoint someone who can cross the divide between education and children’s services and they will take the opportunity to drop the post, he claims.

“Given that the world of schools is so complex and children’s services is so complex in a different way, finding the individuals who had the right skills set to do both was always going to be a challenge.”

He says the end result will be a mix of councils which opt to separate education and children services and others that stick with the status quo.

Paul Ennals, chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau, points out that Every Child Matters is not reliant on any single structure but says he feels uneasy about separating children’s services from education.

“They run the risk of putting back many of the advances that have been achieved.”

He is not alone in this fear. Marion Davis, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, believes the move is premature, given that the current arrangements have not been in place for that long.

“The benefits of integrated services are only now coming to fruition in many areas,” she says.

These are, she continues, professionals from different disciplines working across traditional boundaries to develop a core set of skills and processes that help children’s welfare and educational attainment.

“We would not wish those improvements to be threatened by unproven structural changes, which may turn out to be disruptive and unnecessary,” Davis adds.

But Jasmine Ali, consultant at the Children’s Services Network of the Local Government Information Unit, is more optimistic and says that the names of departments are unimportant; it is how an organisation works that matters.

“Structure, in one sense, is a red herring. It’s outcomes that matter. None of us in the field can afford to have a to-do about structure.”

She also denies this could signal the end of Every Child Matters. “We’ve had a great deal of momentum from that programme and that won’t disappear. People will continue to want to work together to improve outcomes.”

Anna Turley, deputy director of think tank New Local Government Network, agrees and says council restructures are inevitable and should not be viewed as an inherently bad move, particularly if they can meet the demands of service users while saving money.

Kent’s proposal to put adult and children’s services together is actually an example of good sense, she says, since most children at risk live with adults as part of a family. “It means that more effective family interventions can take place that avoid duplication and save money.”

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