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Someone to turn to for all

Pressure groups want local one-stop shops to cater for needs of vulnerable children. Felicity Waters reports

All local authorities in Wales should aim to have a children's services department to look out for vulnerable young people, say pressure groups and senior education figures.

Under the Children Act 2004, local authorities in England are required to put in place a director of children's services to be directly accountable for education and social services relating to children.

The next few years will see an extensive reconfiguration of services, with education, health, youth justice, social care, youth work and others joining forces.

Welsh councils will not be required to merge education and children's social services under one roof, but every local authority, NHS trust and health board will be required to have a lead director and lead elected member responsible for overseeing joint working arrangements for children's services.

Although they have no obligation to do so under the Act, five councils in Wales have already set up children's services departments and calls are now being made for all local authorities to follow their lead.

Terry Garner, strategic director for children and young people at Wrexham council, where three children's departments have been brought together, said the ethos was to put child and family first.

"We have decided on a single approach to children's issues and it's about making sure that our services suit them, rather than the other way around,"

he said.

Sioned Bowen, adviser to the Association of Directors of Education in Wales, hoped all councils would aspire to having services under one roof. A group has been set up, of which the directors of the five authorities with children's departments are members, to provide guidance for collaboration.

"The Association's view is that education is key to driving the children's services agenda," she said.

Janet Ryder, Plaid Cymru's education spokesman, said: "Local authorities are in limbo. Many may want to go down this route but are not being given any guidance. The needs of young people cross both departments. You can't separate children's personal lives and their educational lives."

Some councils in Wales are still working on plans to have a lead director and lead elected member for children's services in place. The Assembly government says it will be issuing guidance in May.

A spokeswoman said it plans to introduce a single strategic "children and young people's plan" from 2008, over three years.

Deborah Jones, director of Voices from Care Cymru, said a one-stop shop would make life easier for looked-after children and those trying to help them. "It can be fraught when you are constantly being bounced back and forth between different departments."

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