Still a few pieces left to complete the jigsaw
The inquiry into the death of eight-year-old Victoria Climbie triggered the biggest reform of child protection in Britain for more than three decades.
Every Child Matters was aimed at creating closer links between social workers, education and other services. But Lord Laming, who led the far-reaching inquiry five years ago, told The TES: "I have yet to be convinced there is uniformly good practice across the country. The implementation is rather patchy."
He said there was still a lack of clarity about boundaries between organisations, and arrangements between them were complicated.
"There are 150 authorities with children's responsibilities, 300 housing departments, goodness knows how many health authorities and primary care trusts, and 47 police forces," he said. "Frankly I think this is difficult."
Lord Laming is not the only one who remains concerned. A recent review into helping children with speech and language difficulties, led by the Tory MP John Bercow, concluded that the current system was "characterised by high variability and a lack of equity".
"We have seen abundant evidence of the damage that is done when professionals operate in isolation from each other, and the result is anything but splendid," it said.
The review's findings are particularly significant this month because April 2008 is the target date by which all local authorities are supposed to have systems in place to promote greater collaboration between services.
Each authority should now have combined its education with its social work for young people in a children's services department. Instead of education directors, all should have children's services directors. And each should be running a children's trust, a partnership of representatives from health, education and other services, including, in some areas, headteachers. Most areas were expected to have these changes in place by 2006.
But schools are still often unimpressed by support from social services. The National Foundation for Educational Research's annual survey last year found that only 27 per cent of secondary heads and 41 per cent in primaries rated their schools' accessibility to social services support as good or better.
John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, said: "The response to the tragedy of Victoria Climbie was the right response, but it had an Achilles' heel. By putting in legislative requirements on all authorities to have a director of children's services and no director of education or director of social services, that led to education and social services having wars about who got that top role for a couple of years.
"It undermined local authorities' capacity to do what they were supposed to do - respond to vulnerable children's needs. Some authorities are still not organisationally up to speed because there is still a pecking-order war going on between the two sections, provoked by requirement."
The suggestion that local authorities have been distracted from child protection by the changes angers the Association of Children's Services Directors. But John Coughlan, its joint president and director of children's services in Hampshire, said he and his colleagues had faced a difficult task.
"It's beyond structural change - most of us have the building blocks in place," he said. "We have a huge amount of work to do collectively in finding ways to harmonise how people work, without destroying their professional identities.
"What is difficult is getting that done while improving outcomes for children and keeping people on-side. It's frustratingly slow work."
Lord Laming said he was pleased that Every Child Matters had encouraged services to work together better to support children who might need help, rather than waiting for evidence of a child being harmed.
"You can't prevent a child being deliberately harmed when there is not a problem which has identified the child at risk and the damage is caused by a totally unpredictable explosion of anger," he said.
"My concern is in response to where a child is known to authorities as at-risk and where authorities fail to take necessary action to put in place minimum safeguards."
Beverley Hughes, the children's minister, agreed that no one could guarantee a parent or carer would not harm a child. "That is precisely what the children's trusts and other arrangements are dedicated to," she said. "Making sure, as far as we can, that it doesn't happen again."
WHEN MATTERS COME TO A HEAD
September 2003: Publication of the Every Child Matters (ECM) green paper setting out five outcomes.
November 2004: Children's Act sets framework for ECM. Local authorities to have a director of children's services and a lead member for children's services by 2008.
March 2005: Al Aynsley-Green appointed Children's Commissioner.
June 2005: Extended Schools Prospectus sets out core services expected in all schools by 2010.
December 2007: The Children's Plan published, setting out proposals for the next 10 years. Teachers promised the chance of masters qualifications.
2008: Strategies published on school safety, internet, computer games, child health, drugs, sex education, alcohol use, children in care, play, and behaviour partnerships.
April 2008: Three-year funding begins to extend free education of 15 hours a week to 20,000 two-year-olds, have more family learning in schools, and create 3,500 playgrounds.
Early 2009: ContactPoint, a database of all children's details, to be in place, enabling practitioners to find out who else is working with the child.
2010: All schools to provide extended services, including after-school clubs, childcare and community access to their facilities. Children's trusts to have high-quality arrangements to identify and act on children who need help.
2011: New primary curriculum should have been introduced.
2015: All young people should stay on in education or training to 18.
2016: All new schools expected to have zero-carbon buildings.
2020: Child poverty should be eradicated; child obesity reduced to levels in 2000; 90 per cent of 11-year-olds meet expected standard in English and maths; and 90 per cent of 19-year-olds achieve five good GCSEs.
THE BIG 5 FINDINGS
- Two-thirds of primary teachers believe sex education should be compulsory.
- Nutritionists say introducing healthy diets do not fully take into account pupils' nutritional needs: chocolate pudding can be an option.
- Three-quarters of teachers have taught pupils they believe have been abused, but most feel ill-trained to spot them.
- The number of children "in danger" from adults has risen, despite a national safety drive.
- Few schools have a road safety policy, which is not compulsory, but road accidents remain the greatest risk to children.
MAKE POSITIVE CONTRIBUTION
- Almost half of teachers are in favour of pupils rating their lessons, while most think young people should have a greater say in drawing up schools' policies. But some secondaries have had good results when giving pupils little say.
- Confusion exists over co-ordination of police in schools.
ENJOY AND ACHIEVE
- More than three-quarters of teachers say pupils' enjoyment of education is being damaged by the pressures to achieve, caused by the testing and exam regime.
- Campaign groups representing vulnerable children, such as those in care, say the focus on achievement has led them to be particularly marginalised.
- Building links between schools and local businesses is important in breaking cycles of poverty.
- Almost two-thirds of teachers said their schools run no programmes to narrow the education gap between pupils from different backgrounds.
Source: The TES poll of more than 2,000 teachers, March 2008.