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CHILDREN'S GREEN PAPER - 'TIME TO SEIZE THE OPPORTUNITIES'

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The end of the consultation period for the government's green paper ...
The end of the consultation period for the government's green paper

`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

public services.

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

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'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

performance.'

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

and SOLACE.

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