`Every Child Matters' has been marked by a strongly-worded statement
from 13 national organisations responsible for, or involved in, the
care and protection of children and their families.
The Interagency Group* (IAG) has strongly welcomed the document's
principles of clarifying accountabilities and integrating services
around the needs of children.
However, the group insists that it would be `inappropriate' for central
government to dictate the future shape of children's services to local
councils and other agencies at this stage. It believes that local
authorities 'must be placed under a statutory duty to establish
overarching strategic partnership arrangements for children to ensure
that all the key agencies and interests `buy into' and support' the
delivery of local plans for improving outcome for children.
There must, as well, be strong mechanisms for improving the involvement
of families, children and young people. The group is particularly
concerned that 'the focus on current structural arrangements as set out
in the green paper will not support - and may seriously undermine -
arrangements to prevent child deaths.'
Above all, the group warns that 'to safeguard children fully, resources
need to be seriously increased.'
The IAG also criticises the green paper for its failure to promote the
vital contribution that voluntary organisations make to the safety and
care of children. It points out that government has recently emphasised
the enhanced role it wishes the voluntary sector to play in delivering
It warns that 'the focus on getting statutory organisations to work more
closely together, with no mention of the voluntary sector in its
structural proposals at all, means there is a risk that the sector's
contribution to the whole children's services system may not be fully
'The voluntary sector is known for its creativity, capacity to innovate,
responsiveness, and ability to offer non-stigmatising services to
children, young people and families who may be reluctant to access
statutory ones. These are all attributes we need to foster across the
system as a whole.'
IAG also believes that a duty should be placed on the individual
statutory organisations to contribute to the partnership, backed up by
robust inspection frameworks. 'Partnership members should be under an
explicit obligation to engage in the planning, resourcing and delivery
of children's services,' the group says.
It stresses, too, that 'the success of one of the partners must be
dependent on the success of them all. It must not be possible for only
one organisation or sector to fail, and the failure of one should be the
failure of all. This inter-dependence must be reflected in the
performance management and star ratings across the organisations.
The group sees the role of the new statutory appointment of director of
children's services in broader and more strategic terms than the green
paper indicates, and insists that the director cannot be made
accountable for problems in services or organisations that are beyond
their direct control.
It goes on to argue that children's trusts are but one of a number of
mechanisms for ensuring effective integrated commissioning for
children's services: 'we think it wise to wait for the outcome of the
children's trust pathfinders before forming a definite view about them.'
Overall, the IAG supports the green paper's emphasis on the role of
schools in the planning and delivery of children's services, but says
'we are not convinced that what is required for this to happen has been
fully thought through. Schools must be placed under statutory duties to
take part in the strategic partnership arrangements for children and to
engage in the planning, resou rcing and delivery of children's services.
'All the messages government sends to schools about what it requires
from them must reinforce the importance of this shift of role - for
example, through the targets and indicators by which it measures their
Elsewhere, while welcoming some aspects of the companion document to the
Green Paper (Next Steps) looking at young offending, the group points to
some areas of grave concern: 'the move to diminish the welfare
principle as it applies to children who have offended is a matter of
serious concern,' while 'it is disappointing that an opportunity has
been missed to take more meaningful steps to reduce the numbers of
children held in custody.'
The group also:
* Welcomes the establishment of a children's commissioner for England -
though insists that the postholder should be independent, have powers to
initiate inquiries and that their role should be based on the 1989 UN
Convention on the Rights of the Child.
* Urges greater care to be taken over the relationship between plans to
prevent child deaths, and measures to protect children from harm.
Andrew Cozens, in his capacity as chair of the interagency group, said:
'we are all absolutely committed to developing a step change for
children's services. But we are convinced that the way to do this is
through a national framework of standards combined with flexible, local
solutions to local problems.'
* The Inter-Agency Group comprises the Association of Chief Education
Officers, the Association of Directors of Social Services, Barnardo's,
the Children's Society, ConfEd, the Connaught Group, The Local
Government Association, NCB, NCH, NCVCCO, The NHS Confederation, NSPCC