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FEATURES - SOCIAL SERVICES:TAKE STOCK BEFORE CHANGING FOR ITS OWN SAKE

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In the Past few weeks, many column inches have been written and much discussion taken place about the future of chi...
In the Past few weeks, many column inches have been written and much discussion taken place about the future of children's services. We have moved it seems from one announcement to another - but somehow something seems to be missing.

We heard about the outcome of the comprehensive spending review and the very welcome focus on outcomes and integrated children's planning, only then to be bounced into a debate about children's trusts. This was fuelled by the intense speculation following health secretary Alan Milburn's speech to the National Social Services Conference in Cardiff and a short excursion into the realms of separate national child protection agencies, not one that, thankfully, seems to have gathered much credence at government level. The Home Office has taken on the mantle of developing preventative strategies and family policy, and the government through the Treasury is quite clear that it places a high priority on tackling child poverty.

Meanwhile, we are awaiting the publication of the Laming Inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbié and we know that there will be some hard and painful lessons to be learnt from it for everyone involved in providing services to and protecting children and their families.

And now, we have been informed about the new cross-cabinet committee that has been set up to consider a green paper in the spring on children's services.

It is clear that everyone wants to consider what to do next. What is not so clear though is where the debate about exactly what is the best way forward is to take place and with whom. I do not detect any dissent among public services agencies, or the independent and voluntary sector that radical and bold things need to happen. We are united in wanting to achieve improved outcomes for all children and young people, and that extra input for those who are vulnerable, in need or at risk.

But where are we going to examine what we know works, and where are we to look at what we already do and use it to inform what needs to change?

In this rush for a new improved future are we not in danger of losing sight of what we do well already? Why is it we remember tragedies, focus on failures and fail to look at the evidence on what works and why? We need to improve and do so constantly but let's talk about how.

Initiatives such as Sure Start, the Children's Fund and Connexions are welcome and are providing a valuable infrastructure on which to build better, more accessible universal and community-based services, through which children in special circumstances can receive extra support to do well. Education is absolutely key to improving the life chances and is a fundamental to improving the life of every child.

Neighbourhood renewal must start with the young if it is to do more than just improve a physical environment. Youth offending teams and drug action teams are crucial parts of a jigsaw that will, if properly established, stop a young person's slide into crime or addiction. Community-based health services will ensure young people keep well.

A green paper should allow for that debate to take place fully and thoroughly, without individual government departments jumping to conclusions and rushing through change. Let us hope that this will actually be the case and that we all take a careful and informed look at the outcomes of the Laming report as part of that debate, not rush to change for change's sake.

Jane Held

Co-chair ADSS children and families committee and director of social services, Camden LBC

www.lgcnet.com/policyresearch

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