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What will you be when you grow up? There is no doubt public investment in children and young people is increasing, ...
What will you be when you grow up? There is no doubt public investment in children and young people is increasing, and enormous amounts of public effort and energy are going into partnerships, plans and projects.

But what impact is this having? The papers carry stories daily about children who have been harmed or children who harm.

At the front line for social services, there are a growing number of children in need. There is a daily balancing act to ensure all child protection cases are allocated, while responding to demands to support this or that project.

The evidence to date is that, far from reducing intervention by social services, initiatives such as Sure Start are increasing it, uncovering serious gaps in services.

A good thing? Yes, but what is the best way to deal with this, how do we pay for it and how do we know it is effective?

There is ample evidence that choices for some children are severely constrained by the environment they live in and they do not have access to the same opportunities as others.

In the past few years we have seen a change in approach - focusing on improving life chances for children through addressing social inclusion, poverty and environment.

We have seen a range of new initiatives entering the public service world, including Sure Start, the national strategy for neighbourhood renewal, and Quality Protects. We shortly anticipate a draft strategy for children and young people and a national service framework for children and young people's health.

The answers so far have focused on inputs, initiatives and service configurations, and on a top-down micro-management approach rather than looking at ways to manage by results.

It is surely time to look at a different approach, based on outcomes for children, and their well-being. We know involving communities is slow but lessons must be learnt from community development models that spend money with no tangible results.

We must use outcome measures and evidence-based approaches rather than rely on the rhetoric of 'investment in prevention will reduce intervention'. We know there will always be some children who need protecting, some families that need support.

So let's agree on, and focus on, the results we want to achieve, and emphasise well-being and welfare rather than process, and service delivery outputs. Let's combine our skills and involve children and communities in our planning so that children, whatever their circumstances, will be able to be what they want to be later in life.

Jane Held

Director, social services, Camden LBC and vice chair, Association of Directors of Social Services, children and families committee

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