Thursday, January 15, 2009

Hyperactive Politicians Fail Our Children

Today in the House of Lords, Gillian Shephard has a debate on the functioning of Children's Services Departments in local authorities in England and why they seem to be failing vulnerable children. I spoke to her about it a couple of days ago and she told me that since 1997 there have been 69 green and white papers affecting children, nine health service reoganisations and seventeen Acts of Parliament affecting loval government structures. Her point is this. If Directors of Children's Services have taken their collective eye off the ball, is it any wonder when they have this amount of government legislation to wade through? No one knows what effect that has had so far.

Ofsted has reported that the number of local authorities failing to properly protect children has doubled within a year. Thousands more children are therefore being put at risk.

More than 150 local authorities now have Children's Departments. Gillian Shepard points out that in many of these there has been "A reorganisation within a reorganisation" with adult and social services being brought within the same remit. These departments are far too big, with bizarre reporting structures and a lack of oversight.

In 2001 Hazel Blears said in a debate on the circumstances which led to the death of Norfolk child Lauren Wright that on average one child dies a week in this country due to neglect. However, recent evidence to the Children, Schools & Families Select Committee shows that the figure is now three a week. This despite all the reforms which have been implemented since the Climbie case in 2000. They seems to have made matters worse.

In essence children are being failed by politicians who are confusing activity with action. This is happening in too many areas, where ill thought out initiatives are launched to great fanfare, and politicians are seen to be doing something. But doing the wrong thing is often worse than doing nothing at all.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Do you have any suggestions?

Lola said...

Privatise all the schools and FE establishments. Let the money follow the child.

Conand said...

So the approximate chronology is:

Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die, Green Paper, 8 children die, White Paper, 8 children die.

Jimmy said...

I was wondering how these high profile child neglect stories would somehow be the Labour Party's fault. Very classy.

Letters From A Tory said...

A classic example would be that, after Baby P died, Ed Balls announced that Children's Trust Boards would be rolled out to every part of the UK and strengthened where they already exist.

What he didn't mention was that one month before Baby P died, the Audit Commission concluded the Children's Trusts Boards had made little difference to children's services and they often lacked clear direction and had made slow progress.

In response to this, Ed Balls claimed that the Audit Commission review was 'out-of-date'.

Unknown said...

Right in theory, wrong on the reality. The department that's too big is Children (which includes Schools, which is what makes it so big). A single social services department, with separate management structures where appropriate for Children and Adults, and a third for schools - which will obviously link to Children but it a different task to the protection of vulnerable children, makes more sense.

But still right in principle. Too many children die in the UK, but substantially fewer than in most other developed countries. Given that it's impossible to get that number to zero, we need an honest discussion about separating out those cases where the system failed because of the people running it, where it failed because it was a bad system, and where it failed because the evildoers were just too committed and cunning for anything compatible with a free society to have stopped them.

Until we do that, we'll have constant turmoil and reorganisation, to little benefit.

Unknown said...

This link, updating Parkinson's law, gives an idea of a solution:

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126901.300-explaining-the-curse-of-work.html

This from Digby Jones links it to an opportunity for some significant cost savings from a Tory government:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7830521.stm

Ruth said...

I'm sure this is right, but it's not just about children. This government has produced reams of legislation, all of it imposing extra burdens on businesses and local government.

It's no wonder the public sector has got so big, with all the regulatory requirements slapped on them.

As for children, when I worked in that area, Children was part of Social Services, not joined with Education. I must have missed this change in the intervening years, but joining the two together makes no sense at all to me. All you need to have to link the two together is efficient communication/coordination. It seems to me that in the baby P case, one of the big issues was that the head of Children came from an Education background - this is not the same skill set needed for managing issues around vulnerable children. What is needed is small, specialist teams with rigorous management not a whole plethora of boards, trusts etc.

unicorn said...

These sad children are being failed by their parents, nobody else. If such "parents" were not paid to reproduce I'm sure they'd stop pretty quickly.

Roger Thornhill said...

"But doing the wrong thing is often worse than doing nothing at all."


Sounds like New Labour Economic policy...