Children's Ministry would end turf wars

13th December 1996 at 00:00
Political parties are being urged to consider a report recommending the appointment of a Downing Street-based Minister for Children.

At present 14 government departments are responsible for the nation's 13 million children, leading to a lack of co-ordination in issues such as under-fives education and childcare, exclusions and juvenile crime.

Peter Newell, co-author of Effective Government Structures for Children, a report for the Gulbenkian Foundation, said: "No government would want to treble the number of children living in poverty or create an inefficient juvenile justice system or to escalate the number of school exclusions but this happens because there is a complete lack of any overall strategy. It seems to us that it is blindingly obvious that this is the most important thing we can do. "

The report has been sent to all three political parties with a plea to consider seriously its suggestions, and Mr Newell believes a specially-commissioned poll shows that there might be electoral support for the ideas.

More than 75 per cent of those polled thought there should be a minister for children, rising to 85 per cent of parents and 88 per cent of young people. Only 4 per cent overall thought central government in the UK worked "very well" for children. Most adults thought politicians gave little thought to the effect of their policies on children.

The report suggests a Cabinet Office Children's Unit led by a minister whose sole responsibility would be the under-18s. The job description might include drawing up a Government strategy for children and young people, analysing the impact of policy on children and reporting annually to Parliament.

The authors say it is important for the minister not to belong to any existing department - thus avoiding problems of turf wars - and for children to be the unit's primary responsibility. The report also suggests an inter-ministerial group on children to ensure policy co-ordination, a dedicated Parliamentary Select Committee and a statutory Office of Children's Rights Commissioner as an independent watchdog.

More than 70 responses were received from British organisations commenting on co-ordination between official departments. Most positive examples related to co-ordination between central and local government and the amalgamation of two departments to form the Department for Education and Employment.

However, serious concerns were raised about training, research, and funding. There were particular problems with special educational needs and the complications of one department having the financial responsibility for getting treatment regulated by another.

Early-years care and education was another area of contention, as was sex education, where the Health of the Nation targets to reduce teenage pregnancy were not helped by what and how schools were directed to teach.

"It is very clear from the response to this inquiry, and from other quoted commentaries, that inadequate co-ordination is causing very serious problems for children and therefore for society."

Effective Government Structures for Children: report of a Gulbenkian Foundation inquiry by Rachel Hodgkin and Peter Newell. Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Pounds 10.95.

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