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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Meg’s recent speech on the Children's Bill

Sunday, May 2, 2004

As part of her work as a Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) at the Department for Education and Skills, Meg recently spoke at two conferences dealing with the introduction of the new Children's Bill currently going through Parliament. The first conference was the 'Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Parent Partnership Service', with the second being 'Multi Agency Working in Hampshire'  - the first mainly for parents and the second for professionals in this area.



Since the launch of ‘Every Child Matters’ last September, we have seen the richest and most significant debate on children’s services for over a generation. Importantly over two thirds of the responses came from children and young people. So many people have come together to support the vision of a society in which every child has the opportunity to fulfil their potential and no child slips through the net. Six months on, we have taken a critical step towards delivering this vision through the introduction of the Children’s Bill in Parliament on 4 March 2004.


Dialogue did not end with the consultation on the Green Paper, or with the introduction of the Bill. It is ongoing. I’m very happy to be here today to carry on the dialogue with you. I'm happy to talk to you about the Government’s programme of change for children. It’s crucial that we all understand each other and that we work together towards common goals if we are to make a real difference to children’s lives.


Before I start to talk about the Children’s Bill in more detail I think it’s important to remind ourselves of the vision for children and for children’s services at its heart. During the consultation on the Green Paper there was a huge consensus around the outcomes for children that we should all be working towards, that is: 

?        being healthy

?        staying safe

?        enjoying and achieving

?        making a positive contribution and

?        achieving economic wellbeing


The majority of our children and young people enjoy better education, health and opportunities than previous generations. But still too many are exposed to crime, abuse and neglect and are underachieving at school. We all know we need to do more to support these children and give them and their families a better deal.


We must ensure that services put children first, adapt to their needs and circumstances. This means extending support for parents and carers. It means high-quality universal services and better access through those universal services to targeted support for vulnerable groups. It means a shift to prevention while strengthening protection.


These practical changes will be underpinned by:

?        clearer accountability and partnership,

?        more trusting relationships between frontline professionals - GPs, teachers, police and social workers.

?        a vibrant voluntary and community sector with new opportunities to be involved in the design and delivery of services. 



So how will we deliver this vision?


The Children Bill is first step in a long-term programme of change. The Bill will create a legislative spine for developing more effective and accessible services focused around the needs of children, young people and their families.


The Bill introduces key changes to ensure that improving children’s wellbeing lies at the heart of everything we do. It will ensure clear, shared outcomes across services. Outcomes embedded in legislation so that every child matters to every agency


The Key theme from the consultation was the need to create a statutory framework that gets all services, including the voluntary and community sector, to work to common objectives. These common goals are critical to achieving the cultural change needed to organise services around children and young people.


The Children’s Bill enshrines the five key outcomes for children mentioned a moment ago and creates duties on every agency to work together towards improving these. It also includes measures to remove legislative barriers to the creation of Children’s Trusts.


It also introduces an independent champion for the views and interests of children by creating a Children’s Commissioner for England, to act as an independent champion for the views and interests of children.


The Children’s Commissioner will be independent of Government, will promote awareness of the views and interests of children and raise the profile of the issues affecting them. They will also ensure that the views of the most vulnerable children and young people in society are gathered and help to influence the development of policy for children.


Consulting and involving children and young people in his/her work and promoting their involvement in the work of other organisations whose decisions and actions affect them will be a significant element.  Government has already made a commitment to involve children and young people in the selection of the commissioner.



At the local level


We will ensure a tighter focus on local arrangements for child protection. We have already received strong endorsement during the consultation for our plans to replace Area Child Protection Committees with statutory Local Safeguarding Children Boards. The Bill will strengthen local arrangements for safeguarding children by requiring local authorities to establish Boards. Key partners, including health bodies, police, probation and district councils will be required by law to co-operate with the local authority in their establishment. Co-operation will be underpinned by a legal duty for partners to have regard to the need to safeguard children and promote their welfare in exercising their normal functions.


The functions of Local Safeguarding Children Boards will be broader than the old arrangements. There will be a greater strategic role and a focus on prevention through minimising risks - as well as responding to concerns expressed about specific children.


There will be clearer accountability for children’s services, including child protection arrangements. There is a need to facilitate stronger accountability for outcomes and better leadership to ensure services cohere around the needs of children and young people.


For this reason, The Bill will require local authorities to appoint a single Director of Children’s Services, and a Lead Member for Children’s Services. The Director of Children’s Services is key to securing better outcomes for all children by providing a clear focus and ensuring better coherence between children’s education and social services. The Director will have an important strategic role in driving change and will provide the single point of accountability for children’s services called for in the Victoria Climbi? Inquiry Report.


There will also be a new integrated inspection framework to ensure services are judged on how they work together, as well as on the quality of outcomes they achieve and promote continuous improvement. It will also contain new intervention powers for children’s social services, bringing them in line with the powers we already have for education. This will ensure we can take a consistent approach across services in areas where services are failing. 



Sharing information


A legislative context will be provided for better sharing of information and other detailed measures to improve services. The Bill provides the framework for establishing information sharing systems to ensure that practitioners are able to provide children and their families with the support they need at the earliest opportunity.


Regulations and guidance will set out the operational details of the information sharing databases, including what information will be held on the database, any specialist services a child may be receiving and the recording that there is a concern about a child.  Access, security and technical specifications, informed by the work of the Trailblazers, will also be covered. Access will be subject to stringent control.


Information sharing systems are about making sure that practitioners are aware of others who are involved with a child and about making sure that they can all work together to pick up on early concerns and prevent more serious problems occurring. Any database would contain details of the child and who was involved, but nothing by way of case information.


Other supporting measures in the Children’s Bill include: 

?        a new duty on Local Authorities to promote the educational attainment of looked after children 

?        new measures to beef up, and improve compliance with, the existing legislative framework for private fostering. The Bill also allows us to establish a registration scheme for private foster carers.  We will only do this if the strengthened Children Act notification scheme does not work as well in practice as we hope.  

A shared programme of change


The Bill creates the legislative framework for change and tackles the poor integration and accountability across services. However, we recognise that real change will require reforms right across the system to address not just the legal and institutional barriers but also: 

?        The targets and performance indicators that shape organisational priorities

?        The capacity of the workforce -including recruitment, retention, skills and team-working.

?        Financial resources: including tackling fragmented funding steams, and the need to invest in prevention.

?        Cultural differences which mean professionals do not work together effectively.

This legislation marks the start of a long term programme of change to deliver whole-system change. In autumn this year, following the next Comprehensive Spending Review, we will set out further details of a programme of change across Government, with a specific focus on the targets and funding arrangements.



The Workers are Key!


We need to build and maintain momentum in the meantime. Government has set up a Sector Skills Council for Social Care, Children and Young People to work with employers to take forward the reforms. To support immediate changes this year, we are creating a £20 million change programme to support work on developing effective workforce practice and support local change.


We are immensely grateful to those of you who will deliver change for children, who do a difficult job under sometimes near-impossible circumstances.  We want to make sure that you have proper support to enable you to do your jobs - and we are developing a pay and workforce strategy for the children’s workforce. The aim of this is to ensure that there are the right people, in sufficient numbers, with the right mix of skills, in the right place, with the right information and able to identify children’s needs and respond or refer appropriately, with proper specialist support available.


Those who work with children, young people and families need to be trusted and feel confident and supported. There should be flexible entry to the profession, and a coherent career pathway through and across disciplines. It goes without saying that high standards of skill and competence throughout will be required.


And those, whose work brings them into contact with children, young people and families, such as GPs and the police, need to share training and competence in understanding and meeting their needs.



Financial investment and culture change


We also intend to support improvement and culture change across the country and ensure proportionate intervention in localities that fall below minimum standards. There will inevitably be a cost to this, with implications for local authority funding. 


Overall the local government settlement has increased resources for Children’s Social Services, providing for an increase in total resources of some 8.7% overall. In addition, this year, we have provided an additional £100m in a Safeguarding Children grant above and beyond what councils were expecting. We hope that the money is used to respond to the recommendations in the Victoria Climbi? Inquiry Report and the Joint Chief Inspectors’ report ‘Safeguarding Children’ and to prepare for the implementation of Local Safeguarding Children Boards.




Now have a real opportunity to make a difference to the lives of children and their families. I believe that these measures I have outlined today together with developments taking place elsewhere in Government, such as the Sex Offences Bill, will mark a turning point in child protection and lead to real improvements in the way children are safeguarded in this country.



It’s important not to get distracted by the changes. To stay focused on what we are all about - that is safeguarding children and improving their lives.  I know how hard it can be to keep your eye on the ball in times of change, but as you know much better than me, there are children out there who need safeguarding right now. The reform programme I have outlined is a challenge. But if we rise to this we will be much, much closer to achieving our vision - towards building a society where every child matters.









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