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Council creates one-stop shop

An umbrella service that brings together care and education is being launched by Hertfordshire County Council. Jill Parkin reports.

A quarter of a million children will be covered by a new care and education service being launched by an English county council. Hertfordshire is to drop its education directorate in favour of an umbrella children, schools and families directorate.

The new department, thought to be the first of its sort, is a recognition of the fact that children often have more than one problem. A low-achieving child with a poor attendance record may come from a background of health and social problems, for example.

A family which might normally be the subjects of visits and reports from several different local authority departments, as well as police, health or voulntary services, will have one key worker under the CSF scheme, which starts in April 2001. The new service should, says Hertfordshire, be cheaper as well as more efficient.

The authority is advertising for a deputy director of children, schools and families. The pound;72,000 post is one of two co-deputy directors - one to concentrate on education and one on social services. The advert says the authority is aiming for "a successful fusion of education and social care into one, child-centred discipline."

The advert makes it clear that knowledge of education is not enough: "you must add to this a close understanding of social services provision, SSI benchmarking, and inter-agency partnerships throughout the social care, health, voluntary and other sectors".

Hertfordshire denies that the move is a means of protecting deflated education departments in the face of increasing schools autonomy and the devolution of control away from the LEAs. The authority says information technology and government legislation allwing budget pooling have made it possible.

The authority has been working on the idea since October 1999. The former director of education for Hertfordshire, Ray Shostak, is now director designate of children, schools and families. He says the authority is very excited by the new "holistic" department.

"We thought about a child-first approach, and whether we would want to create separate social services, health and education departments. The answer was no," says Shostak.

"At the moment there are caseworkers from all the departments going in and out of a family's home with different files, protocols for referral, protection, statementing and so on. From April next year there will be a case co-ordinator, electronically linked to all the different agencies. And there will be a pooled budget, which will stop arguments about which department is paying for what provision."

Information from all the services will be pooled and the case co-ordinator should be able to pinpoint needs more effectively. Behind him or her will be a multi-professional team. With just one "someone from the council" to deal with, families should find it more user-friendly.

"It's not about saving money, because what we save will be re-invested in preventative care. At the moment, prevention doesn't have the profile it deserves. For example, health vistors see every family after a birth and they identify early on what is going to be wobbly. In education we've never been able to capture that," says Shostak.

The description of the CSF service given to applicants for the post of deputy director talks about "clustering services in and around school communities". Shostak says the service will aim at "achievement for all" whatever it takes.

* Induction problems for NQTs, You amp; your job, Friday, p31

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