Victoria's legacy is radical reform

12th September 2003 at 01:00
Jon Slater reports on the Government's proposals to ensure children's agencies work together

A radical shake-up of children's services to protect young people from abuse was announced by ministers this week.

Every child will be the responsibility of a "key professional" and will be given their own identity number to help professionals share information and prevent tragedies like that of the death of Victoria Climbie.

For school-aged children the key professional is most likely to be a non-teaching member of staff.

From 2006 new children's trusts will bring together education, social services, health and other agencies. Education and social services will be run by a single director of children's services.

Chief education officers face the choice of applying for the new post or ceding their authority to the new director.

A Children's Commissioner for England will be appointed to safeguard young people's rights and protect them from abuse.

Prime Minister Tony Blair described the proposals, in the Government's consultation paper, Every Child Matters, as "the most far-reaching reform of children's services for 30 years".

The Government also announced a new pound;200 million young people's fund to subsidise sports, arts and other activities for children in deprived areas.

Other proposals include an "information hub" to ensure that all appropriate agencies have access to data on children, extra support for parents and a strategy to improve the skills of those who work with young people.

The Green Paper was originally due to be published in July but was postponed amid accusations that the Government was trying to keep Margaret Hodge, children's minister, out of the spotlight.

Mrs Hodge, who faced calls to resign over her management of abuse in Islington care homes more than a decade ago, was given only a minor role in this week's launch.

Accompanying the Green Paper are targets for the educational achievement of children in care.

By 2006, ministers aim to have "substantially narrowed the gap" between the results of children in care and their peers. This means:

* test results for 11-year-olds at least 60 per cent of the national average.

* no more than 10 per cent of children in care leaving school without having sat a GCSE or equivalent

* average increases of four percentage points in the numbers of 16-year-olds in care gaining five or more A* to C GCSEs and

* at least 15 per cent to reach this level in every authority.

Lord Laming, who conducted the inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie, one of Britain's worst child abuse cases, described the Government's proposals as "stimulating and imaginative".

"The Green Paper has tremendous potential but requires a strong commitment to make it a reality," he added.

Children's charities also welcomed the Green Paper but teachers' leaders warned that their members should not be expected to take on additional responsibilities for child protection.

Doug McAvoy, National Union of Teachers' general secretary, said: "The Government must remember that teachers are already over-burdened. It needs to make sure there are adequate staff and investment to ensure the potential benefits are achieved."

Local authority leaders accused the Government of focusing on "structures not standards".

Platform 29 Noa-5 Six ways to ensure every child matters

* Legislation to introduce the new post of director of children's services

* Each child's welfare to be the responsibility of one "key professional"

* New children's trusts to bring together education, health, social services and others

* A new Children's Commissioner to act as a champion for young people in England

* A pound;200 million young people's fund to provide recreational activities

* A workforce reform strategy to boost recruitment and the skills of those working with children

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