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Implementing the Children’s Act: Key Issues for Councillors

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

At the Labour Party Spring Conference Meg addressed a fringe meeting organised by NSPCC entitled ‘Implementing the Children’s Act: Key Issues for Councillors’, her contribution is below. Speaking also was Cllr Tony Lewis (Vice-Chair of the Local Government Association Children and Youth Board) and Vince Muspratt (Head of Public Affairs at the NSPCC).


Many councils are currently focusing on the changes set out in the Children Act 2004, but this is only part of what is required if the aims of the document “Every Child Matters” are to be achieved. There is also concern that many councils are focusing on structural reform. Yes, the Government want to see Children’s Trusts in place and each Local Authority with a Director of Children’s Services, but what is needed is much more than new posts or new structures; it’s cultural change. The child must be at the centre, services must not be seen in their traditional divisions of education, social services and health.


The importance of having a clear vision for the service cannot be over-emphasised. Councillors are ideally placed to develop such a view of what that should be. There must be a lead councillor for children, but real change will only come about if there is an understanding of the vision across the whole council.


A key concept is that of ‘safeguarding’. This does include child protection but it is much wider than that. The term ‘child protection’ has tended to scare people into feeling that they did not have the skills to cope with issues affecting children’s well being. In contrast ‘safeguarding’ is something that universal services should be able to take up. Teachers may see their role primarily as teaching, but they can surely not argue that their role doesn’t also have a requirement to safeguard the welfare of the child while they are in school.


We must improve the ability of universal services to provide support and help to parents, and along with additional provision for children and families such as children’s centres and extended schools, there are real opportunities to improve the welfare of all children. ‘Safeguarding’ is also about other policies that a Council has. For example we know that the poorest communities usually have the highest childhood accident rates both in and outside the home. Policies that tackle poor health, poor housing and road safety are also part of this agenda.


In order to achieve the clear vision necessary workforce reform will be required. The aim must be to have a more coherent, stable but flexible children’s workforce. It is not just about breaking down barriers between professionals, and organising services around the child, there is a need to think creatively. All services, those in the public, private and voluntary sector, must be part of the development of services in communities that support children and families.


Many organisations, such as faith groups and community groups, provide services to young people, children and families. They should be drawn into the new vision. Surestart has demonstrated the benefits of building services from the needs identified by the community. Achieving this approach across a much wider range of services is a demanding but necessary challenge. Equally, striving for high quality services will be a challenge that must be faced by national and local government alike.


Last but not least, the voices of children need to be heard. Councillors have to consider how they can best do this in a meaningful way. Schools are well placed with many now developing schools councils, but there are also opportunities to hear what children and young people think about the whole range of council services. One of the successes of the green paper “Every Child Matters” was that two thirds of the responses to the consultation came from children and young people.


So how should services look in a few years time? Yes there should be Children’s Directors, yes there should be Children’s Trusts, but more importantly there should be better services supporting children and families. In order to achieve this we need councillors with a clear vision of what they want their Director and Trust to achieve in their local area.



The photo shows Vince Muspratt, Head of Public Affairs at the NSPCC, greeting Meg.

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