The Munro Review and turmoil in children’s services, local government and health make this a prime time to draw some lines in the sand, argues Nick Berbiers, interim children’s services manager and consultant
What is a children’s services baseline? It is, quite simply, a statement of what you want statutory children’s services to look like in this country. It is what you want to see provided, and who you want to provide it. It is by definition ideological and political because your baseline is whatever you want it to be.
This is my baseline: I think local authorities should directly undertake statutory child protection and care duties; be it the Section 47 duty to investigate child protection concerns, Section 17 duties to support children in need or Section 20 duties to accommodate children. I do not believe those duties and responsibilities should be minimised, rationalised, privatised or outsourced to any other bodies, be they private companies, co-operatives, not-for-profits or any other publicly unaccountable entity.
I do not believe any outsourcing entity can ever be made publicly and democratically accountable in the way a local authority is.
I want to see a return to some “old-fashioned” concepts such as “good-enough parenting” and the “planning for permanence” model as it was in its heyday, 20 years ago. I want frontline work protecting children to take precedence over performance management and bureaucracy. I want joint working with the police to mean trust, co-operation and the melding of investigative and assessment skills and techniques that I recall post-Children Act 1989. I want children’s services and partner agencies to be undertaking outcomes-led practice, informed by meaningful outcome measures.
Why should we be thinking about what our baseline is? Because we have reached a crossroads: just as we always do in children’s services every decade or so.
I give you the Munro Review, the Department for Communities and Local Government review of all local authority duties, the Health and Social Care Bill and the cuts. Risks and challenges: threats and opportunities. I do not object to change – it forces us to fight for what we believe in. What you believe in is your baseline.
I suspect the government’s children’s services baseline looks different from mine. I suspect it wants to take a different fork at the crossroads from the one I would. But the key word is “suspect”. I do not know, because the government has not told us.
Take the review of statutory duties, for example. Is it a process that seeks to revoke duties? Is it a procedure to begin the statutory and regulatory changes required to outsource duties? Is it a bit of both? Is it nothing more than a red herring?
We do not know. The government has not said. We can all contend and hypothesise, but there does come a point where prime minister David Cameron needs to state what the government’s baseline actually is.
We are, I believe, at one of those turning points where everyone with an opinion needs to express it, both individual and organisational – that includes the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, BASW – The College of Social Work, Professor Eileen Munro, you, me, young people, parents, carers.
We all need to be given the opportunity to say what our baseline is. That way, we can discuss and analyse the evidence as to whether, for instance, child welfare outsourcing/privatisation has or has not worked in the countries where it has been tried – to discuss whether it reduces costs, provides a better service or improves outcomes for children.
The same discussion is needed for outcome measurements, permanency, adoption, fostering, residential care, child protection and all components of children’s social care.
I am not talking about a micro-debate of these components in detail. That would take years and many have been subject to lengthy reviews and reports. I am talking about the big picture – what do we want children’s social care services to look like, who should provide them and what should they seek to do? Where do we want to be in 2013?
The time to have that debate is now.
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Special report on outsourcingThe Munro review of child protection and children’s services