Magazine article Public Finance

Built to Last?

Magazine article Public Finance

Built to Last?

Article excerpt

In the old days, it was the conference of the Association of Directors of Social Services. Now delegates are getting ready for the National Children and Adult Services Conference next week. How times change - even the ADSS name is on its way out

New names reflect new realities - and uncertainties. Gone are the old local authority social services departments, as adults' and children's services have been split To cap it all, the children in care green paper came out this week and is to be followed shortly by the white paper on local government If the conference delegates in Brighton dream of more constancy and less reform it would be no surprise.

The green paper proposes greatly strengthening support for children in care, who will be given new rights, with clarity over what they can expect from a council. There are also measures to improve the quality of their education. The most radical proposal is to give them individual care budgets. However, the paper stops short of proposals to outsource support for children where councils perform poorly, as some commentators are predicting.

These latest proposals come as local authorities are still adjusting to the changes from the 2004 Children Act - namely the requirement to appoint both a director of children's services and a matching lead member - and from the government s Every Child Matters initiative. This was largely a response to Lord Laming s inquiry into the torture and murder of eight-year-old Victoria Climbié, which found that statutory bodies had failed to work together or share information in ways that would have protected her. Severe problems that fell across and between the responsibilities of different departments were not handled adequately.

The findings sparked a structural reorganisation of social services, typically splitting them into children's services, including social care and schooling, and adults' services, in which adult social care might be brought together with adult learning, culture and sports.

Children's services authorities now have an explicit duty to work with other public bodies and partnerships to protect children. But there is widespread scepticism among practitioners and academics about whether such a neat solution is any solution at all.

In the words of Jon Glasby, lecturer at Birmingham University's Health Services Management Centre: 'One persons integration is another's fragmentation. However you organise services, you need to create boundaries.'

Andrew Cozens, strategic adviser to the Improvement and Development Agency on children, adults and mental health, warns: "There are concerns that the two services [adults' and children's social care] are going their own way and there is competition for scarce resources, plus a large proportion of the budgets is going straight to schools, with adults' services facing a double squeeze of lower grant and NHS deficits'

Cozens, a former director of social services at Leicester City Council, believes that it is too soon to consider the impact of the separation of the services. 'Councils are still at the stage of developing new structures and roles,' he says.

With the local government white paper soon to be published, there is now the spectre of possible further restructuring. Speculation on the paper's contents has led to debate on the future of adults' services becoming caught up with the future of local government itself.

This perception was clearly articulated at the last of the IDA's regional events for social services directors and lead members in Liverpool. 'If adult services continues to be about matching particular people to particular services, then it's under pressure,' explains Cozens. 'But if the white paper is about building communities and developing preventative services, then they potentially become much more significant The service will develop a strong focus around what it feels like to live in a particular place.'

In any case, Cozens points out, some local authorities have kept both services in the same department, complying with the Children's Act by employing a director of children's services. …

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