Neil Munro reports from the TES ScotlandEdinburgh City Council annual conference
One of the most comprehensive reforms of educational and other services for children, designed to bring them closer together, was signalled at the Edinburgh Conference by Peter Peacock, Education Minister.
The cabinet has appointed Mr Peacock to chair a high-powered "delivery group" for children and young people which also numbers the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.
Mr Peacock made clear at the conference last Friday, attended by a wide range of professionals from different services, that ministers are determined to press ahead with "better joined-up services" at both national and local levels.
He praised examples of such initiatives in Edinburgh, Highland and Clackmannanshire. But, citing the high-profile deaths of young children where councils were found professionally wanting, he said: "Services need to improve, and they need to improve urgently. Much more has to be done by all those involved to stop children and young people falling through the net."
Among new initiatives confirmed by the minister are:
* Reforming the local child protection system.
* Introducing a charter for children and young people.
* Establishing national standards for child protection.
* Better training in child protection for social workers.
* More multi-agency inspections.
* A review of the children's hearings system.
Mr Peacock revealed he would be writing a joint letter along with Cathy Jamieson, Justice Minister, and Malcolm Chisholm, Health Minister, to step up pressure on local authorities.
Written assurances will be sought from council, health and police leaders that they have reviewed child protection operations, that they are satisfied those services are adequate and that they have a "robust quality assurance" system.
As reported last week, Mr Peacock made it clear that integrated community schools (ICSs) will be an essential part of plans to streamline children's services. "This is not a passing fad," he said. "It is a policy for the long term."
But he acknowledged: "We still have some distance to go to fully knit together our policies and approaches at the local level and to deliver truly integrated services."
Ewan Aitken, education spokesperson for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, who clashed with Mr Peacock last week over the minister's plans to take interventionist powers over schools, was more charitable on these latest proposals.
Mr Aitken told the conference: "We must do more than simply communicate between professions. We must completely integrate the workings of all the agencies, statutory and voluntary, that are concerned with the care and nurture of children and young people."
Referring to the tragic death of young Caleb Ness in Edinburgh, which led to the resignation of the city's director of social work, Mr Aitken, executive member for education on the city council, said that reforms would not necessarily need massive structural changes.
"Nor does it mean the demise of one or other of the distinct professions.
But it does mean changing the culture of defensiveness, particularly over who has what information about whom that often pervades relationships between professions, to one where there are safeguards but no barriers."
During discussion following Mr Peacock's speech, there was no shortage of suggestions for the ministerial in-tray. Colin Finlayson, a former Edinburgh head and now development officer for leadership in the city's education department, said that many professional barriers are established during initial training.
Mr Peacock told him that there were plans for joint training and joint inspections.
Alex Wood, head of Wester Hailes Education Centre in Edinburgh, said the way that different services worked together was in some ways less effective than 10 years ago. There was an urgent need to recruit more social workers to help damaged and behaviourally difficult children and their families.
That would require the break-up of social work structures and the establishment of young people's teams.
Mr Peacock said that there are now more social workers in post than ever before and the number of qualified graduates was up by 25 per cent. More recruitment would be necessary. "It is an extraordinarily difficult job," he remarked, "but we will be unrelenting in our efforts."
Tam Baillie, assistant director with Barnardo's Scotland, drew attention to "poor levels of engagement between schools and the children's hearing system which is seen as a social work responsibility when it is in fact a local authority responsibility".
Mr Peacock replied: "You are dead right."
* implementing integrated community schools may take 10 years to a generation - Grace Gunnell, integration manager with West Dunbartonshire Council
* factors making for success in integrated community schools will be more pupil engagement in education, better health, improved social behaviour and attitudes and greater community engagement - Bart Biagini, HMI
* effective integrated working requires better information systems and not "services delivered in silos" - Vijay Patel and Murray McVicar, Scottish Executive
* partnership also requires the Scottish Executive to work with the teacher in the classroom since it is much easier to create a structure than deliver it - discussion group contributor
* making a real difference for vulnerable families requires professionals working across boundaries to provide intensive home support - Linda Wallis and Alice Mitchell, Greater Glasgow Health Board
* integrated services require integrated planning - Charles Stephen, integration manager with Highland Council