THE Scottish Executive should stop "pigeon-holing" ring-fenced funds and be more consistent in its approach to financing children's services if it wants them to be effective, a Children in Scotland conference in Dunblane heard last week.
Gordon Jeyes, director of children's services with Stirling Council, said: "A pox on challenge budgets and bolting things on." Mr Jeyes added. "A more universal approach is required, with freedom for local authorities to be diverse and opportunities for the skills and talents of staff to flourish."
He gave the Executive credit for trying to encourage a debate but said that it was displaying inconsistency. "We should be adopting an integrated approach for all children and the Government must stop putting things out separately. There should be a universal service based around the needs of children and then, within that, targeting those who need the extra help."
Mr Jeyes cited the new community schools initiative as an example of pigeon-holing and called for them to be rebranded. "The new community schools are not about schools, they are about child services and spreading ownership beyond schools. When we are discussing the needs of the child we shouldn't necessarily be able to distinguish between social work, psychological services and teacher input. They can all work together.
"I don't want to make teachers social workers or vice versa, but if they work together they will work in a way in which their expertise can be most effective."
Bernadette Malone, strategic planning manager with Perth and Kinross and currently seconded to the Executive to study the funding of cross-cutting initiatives, also called for greater consistency. "The message should be reinforced that social inclusion is a priority and that local agencies should be working together."
Se suggested that ministers should consider offering some kind of incentives, including financial ones, to encourage public agencies to work jointly. "The different departments in the Executive need to sponsor this in a more proactive way. In the area of children's health, for example, we should expect the relevant departments to commit resources and give out the same message."
In his address to the conference, Nicol Stephen, Deputy Minister for Education, announced an extra pound;1 million a year over three years for voluntary organisations working with children, an increase of nearly 50 per cent.
Mr Stephen said he recognised the need to make all organisations "child conscious" and stressed the importance of good training for new workers in children's services. Apparently anticipating some of the criticisms, he also announced an action team to encourage joined-up working in the public sector.
The team will comprise secondees from organisations involved in delivering services, including the voluntary sector. "The aim is to produce an action plan setting out practices and approaches which facilitate better integrated services," Mr Stephen said.
As expected (TESS, last week), a number of delegates had been critical of the decision to drop the word children from the new Education Minister's title. Speaking after the conference, Kay Tisdall, Children in Scotland's policy and research manager, said that while she welcomed Mr Stephen's assurances that his particular role will be to take on children's issues, the conference had expressed "considerable concern" at the implications.
"Will the commitment towards integration remain, and will the executive, as the conference urged, actually take things much further and respond to the call for more joined-up budgets, planning and legislation?"