VULNERABLE CHILDREN could be placed at risk under new super-sized departments dealing with everything from serious child-protection cases to school improvement schemes, a major report from the association of directors of education in Wales (ADEW) has warned.
But support for integrated children's services directorates' is growing, with education unions talking them up as long as they don't increase red tape for time-strapped heads.
Every local authority in Wales must move towards integrating children's services as a statutory requirement of the 2004 Children's Act. But the risks of putting them under one roof was tackled by the ADEW in its document, Integrating Service Provision for Children and Young People in Wales, which was launched at Cardiff's Copthorne hotel last Friday.
"There have previously been serious incidents within the system when the focus has primarily been on the core business of protection within social services," the report warns.
The launch, managed by ADEW's sub-group chairman Vernon Morgan, was followed by presentations from three of Wales's 22 LAs which have already moved towards integration Carmarthenshire, Merthyr Tydfil and Wrexham.
Every one of these councils has gone about integration in a different way. Rhondda Cynon Taf stands alone in already having a fully integrated service.
Gareth Jones, secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders Cymru, warned that education must not be used to subsidise ailing social services directorates. But he said: "For a long time heads have complained that more agencies need to be accessed earlier, to help a badly behaved pupil for example."
The integrated directorates, which will be led by one director, have been ordered to ensure that preventive intervention in children's lives is carried out effectively though pooled resources, information and funding.
Key areas are seen as child poverty, child abuse and bad behaviour leading to exclusion. But the report says creating a world-class service for children must come before workforce fears over changing structures, such as job losses and organisation.
It also says that no existing services should be watered down as the changes proceed. Mr Morgan told LA representatives that changes had to be evidence based.
Elizabeth Taylor, children and schools group director at the Welsh department of education, told delegates that the engagement of the young people and their families was crucial.
"The ultimate test is when children and young people see a difference, and we see a long-term change in outcomes for them and for the society they live in."