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FEATURES - SOCIAL SERVICES

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As Margaret Hodge controversially takes up her duties as the first minister for children, she has the opportunity t...
As Margaret Hodge controversially takes up her duties as the first minister for children, she has the opportunity to make the role a champion for children at the highest level of government. But such champions are needed throughout government ? including at local level.

Former health secretary Frank Dobson recognised this. In his famous 1998 letter to councillors about their duties as corporate parents, he wrote: ?Elected councillors have a crucial role. Only you can carry it out. You can make sure the interests of the children come first. You bring a fresh look and common sense.?

Since then, the Local Government Act (2000), among other developments, has changed the landscape in which this role is played. A new guide for councillors, If this were my child, is being published by the Local Government Information Unit and the government to explore what has changed and what remains constant.

The most important constant is the needs of the children themselves. As often happens, the structures, officials and procedures change around young people with bewildering speed.

But their need for stability and care, for education to reach their full potential, for support when they leave care, remains as pressing as ever. Like Mr Dobson?s letter, the guide identifies the key issues and poses some questions.

Of critical importance is finding ways in which councillors can hear directly from young people themselves. The positives

as well as the problems need to be highlighted.

Young people in care need their achievements to be celebrated and to mark life milestones as other children do, and corporate parents must find ways to champion their looked-after children?s successes as any good parent would.

The introduction of separate scrutiny and executive functions does change how the corporate parent role is fulfilled. Our guide identifies a need for scrutiny members to be clear about the purpose of their corporate parent monitoring function, to focus on local priorities relating to children?s se rvices and to ensure it is not left to the social services scrutiny committee. However, there are exciting opportunities for scrutiny members to involve young people more in assessing the services they use.

Executive members have a key political leadership role in driving up service improvements and ensuring children have priority ? many authorities have adopted cross-cutting portfolios to promote a children?s champion in their executive.

Our guide highlights the growing importance of working with local partnerships to deliver services, and for councillors to make the links across the health, regeneration and other bodies in which they are involved. As for every parent, your children?s needs and concerns range far and wide. The key for the corporate parent is to hear and act upon these concerns ? to champion your looked-after children as they move through your care and on into life.

Jessica Crowe

Author of the forthcoming LGIU publication If this were my child: a councillors? guide to being a corporate parent

www.lgcnet.com/policyresearch

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