Biggest shake-up for 30 years

John Carvel
Tuesday September 9, 2003
The Guardian

The biggest reorganisation of children's services in England for 30 years, launched in a government consultation paper yesterday, responded to the Laming inquiry into the murder of Victoria Climbié.

The paper, Every Child Matters, set the aim of ensuring "that every child has the chance to fulfil their potential by reducing levels of educational failure, ill health, substance misuse, teenage pregnancy, abuse and neglect, crime and anti-social behaviour among children and young people".

In the paper's introduction, Tony Blair said the names of abused children whose deaths triggered previous inquiries "echoing down the years, are a standing shame to us all".

The green paper said: "From past inquiries into the deaths of Maria Colwell and Jasmine Beckford to recent cases such as Lauren Wright and Ainlee Walker, there are striking similarities which show some of the problems are of long standing. The common threads which led in each case to a failure to intervene early enough were poor coordination; a failure to share information; the absence of anyone with a strong sense of accountability; and frontline workers trying to cope with staff vacancies, poor management and a lack of effective training.

To prevent a recurrence, it proposed four areas of reform:

Early intervention

The paper said: "The key is to ensure children receive services at the first onset of problems, and to prevent any children slipping through the net." To achieve this the government proposes:

· Improving information sharing between agencies to ensure all local authorities have a list of all children in their area. Work will be done to remove legal and technical barriers to information sharing so that every child can be given an identity number and electronic file of key information.

· Children known to more than one specialist agency should have a single named professional to take charge of their case and be responsible for ensuring a coherent package of services to meet the individual child's needs.

· Professionals will be encouraged to work in multi-disciplinary teams based in and around schools and children's centres.

Accountability and integration

The paper said: "The government's aim is that there should be one person in charge locally and nationally with the responsibility for improving children's lives. Key services for children should be integrated within a single organisational focus at both levels." The government would:

· Create the post of director of children's services, accountable for local authority education and children's social services.

· Legislate to create a lead council member for children.

· Establish children's trusts to integrate the work done by local authorities, the NHS, Connexions and other services such as youth offending teams.

Workforce reform

To make difficult work with children an attractive career, the government wants:

· A reform strategy to improve skills and review pay, with incentives for good practitioners to stay on the front line. The green paper was silent on how big pay increases might be.

· A high profile recruitment campaign for entry into the children's workforce.

· A comprehensive workload survey to identify ways of freeing up time for face to face work with families.

· A leadership development programme to foster high calibre leadership.

Supporting parents and carers

The government has included a number of measures on parenting and family support, which include:

· Using schools, health and social services to provide information and advice.

· Targeted and specialist support to parents of children requiring additional support.

· Compulsory action through parenting orders as a last resort where parents are condoning a child's truancy, anti-social behaviour, or offending.

The government said it would consult on the proposals until December 1, and legislation is expected in the next parliamentary session.