Looked-after Children - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)

MARGARET DILLON, MARY MACLEOD, ANNE SCARBOROUGH AND PROFESSOR JANE TUNSTILL

26 MARCH 2008

  Q60  Chairman: Margaret, what is your take on all this?

  Margaret Dillon: To echo some of what Anne and Mary have said, what is going to be most helpful is recognising that integrated services, rather than services being delivered in silos as they have been, will potentially be more supportive to families. A number of agencies are picking up different issues at different times, without ever taking an holistic picture of the needs of children and their families and developing an integrated response. I also think that within local authorities there has been a tendency to work in silos and to think, "I am working with a looked-after children cohort," or, "I am working with children and risk and therefore in need of child protection services," but then there is a cohort of children you never quite get to who require early intervention services. They are always lower priority. The whole question of thresholds then comes in and the point at which a child and their family become in need of a service under section 17 of the 1989 Act. The whole threshold debate becomes quite problematic within local authorities in terms of what Anne was saying about where you then choose to allocate resources. The high-cost services tend to be services for looked-after children and there is always a challenge to front-end the early intervention range of family support services.

  Q61  Chairman: Your organisation has a particular interest and focus. I recently met some of your people and was interested to be educated in the specialism and focus of NCH. You have this knowledge of parenting and families and a long history in the field. How do you break out? Do you look to children's trusts to have a more sensible attitude? If you looked at an average authority, roughly how many children would be in each category? Does anyone know?

  Margaret Dillon: I am sure that Anne knows the figures for Calderdale. Very good authorities that have done a detailed analysis know because they ought to be in a position to identify needs within their local authority boundaries. They would have a percentage of children who are at the very pinnacle of need, then middle priority, then lower priority, and then a whole range of services that are universally accessed. As needs become more problematic and require different sorts of services, you get targeted services.

  Q62  Chairman: Anne, can you give us a figure? How many of these children are the ones who give us the greatest concern and how big is the next band? Is it 1% followed by 5%?

  Anne Scarborough: I cannot give you a figure, but let me give you an example. We have tiers 1 to 4 of provision. Tier 1 is universal provision, where most children and families sit. Tier 2 is preventive services, where you are a bit concerned about things. Tier 3 is intervention and targeted support, rather like support for children who have special educational needs, for example. Tier 4 is acute services—again, that comprise children with special educational needs and looked-after children. Most children are in tiers 1 and 2. Tiers 3 and 4 are the tiers where you are getting to the most acute. The skill is to have pathways through the tiers, because what happens when you build blocks like that is that people get stuck in each block. You need to build pathways, which is what we have started to do in Calderdale. Our experience in Calderdale is not unique to local authorities. Things get stuck in initial assessment. If somebody makes a referral to care services, sometimes there are not enough people to deal with it at that tier. Initial assessment sometimes takes a long time to do, or it might not be done as—I hesitate to say accurately, but it might not be done as holistically, which is what Margaret alluded to, as one would like. The key is getting the assessment right and then getting the pathways right. Let us say there is a child and a family who are at tier 1, for example. Families go through crises at different times—we all come from families and we all know that that happens. There are occasions when a family at tier 1, accessing universal services, has a bit of a blip and need to access something at tier 2 or tier 3. Children go up and down those tiers for different things. A child can be doing perfectly well in school in universal provision, but the family is in crisis and therefore needs tier 3 and 4 provision. It is a very complex matter. You have to look at the individual family and the individual child. You have to take a needs-based approach, with very good holistic assessment, with the team around the child, so that you are looking at their education, health and welfare. Quite often, I get phone calls from schools, for example, to say, "This child in this family is not coming to school. The other children are, but one child isn't. What's happening there?" An interventionist, assessment approach and pathways are very important, so that you do not get stuck in one bit—because you are in this bit, you cannot go into that bit and access a service, which Margaret alluded to. Figures are very difficult to get—I cannot remember the figures in Calderdale and I have not brought them with me—but it is the pathways through that are important. The key is getting prevention, intervention and support at the time when the family or the child needs it, as Margaret said. Sometimes it is a case of, "Oh, that's not the threshold to go into this bit."

  Q63  Chairman: But, Jane, does that not depend on the teams working as teams? Everything I have read so far shows there are gaps all round the place.

  Professor Tunstill: Yes, there is a lot of evidence in the literature over years and years that the culture and practices in individual organisations have the most impact on how many children end up in care or whatever. Yes, you are absolutely right to focus on the team. Could I just deliver a caveat, or health warning, which is that I have not been bribed by NCH. It is coincidental that I am doing a piece of evaluation for NCH on something that I think is relevant, which is a very deliberate project that it has set up in four of its children's centres to do exactly what my colleagues have been talking about, which is to facilitate self-access, and sometimes facilitated access—a bit more proactive outreach work—into the universal services of the children's centre, with the proviso that more targeted and purposive support can be delivered within the centre, but without treating families who happen at that point in time to be manifesting more complex needs as in some way ghetto-ised, with the attitude of "Oh, hello; they are the funny old bunch from whatever bit of the estate." Certainly in the centre that I was in a couple of weeks ago, which is run by NCH, they go to great lengths to stop talking, in a sense, about those tiers, to provide a very attractive universal service that large numbers of the local parents use, and very actively to work to engage some of those who, for a variety of very rational reasons, may be reluctant to appear in children's centres. That is the great deficit of the many exciting initiatives such as children's centres and, to an extent, extended schools: they do not pay enough attention to the wariness of parents and the need to bolt on some purposive outreach, so that they can come in and be encouraged to access the universal services, even if, at the same time, they are having one-to-one counselling. Do you want a little example from a bloke I met who is using the centre?

  Chairman: We love that sort of thing.

  Professor Tunstill: Okay. He was living with his partner who had various depressive problems. They had their ups and downs and eventually his partner left him, unusually—it is more unusual for women to leave men with the children; she left the family home and left him with the children. Before she left they had used the odd group in the local children's centre, but the children's centre, having clocked this, went to great lengths to engage him and encourage him to come in—remember that he is a man—to use some of the more purposive work that they had got going: a counsellor and some small groups talking about parenting. He accessed all of that, but without feeling that he was some sort of two-headed monster. He felt a lot better, then dropped back, if you like, from that level of higher support, but still goes in and out of the children's centre, accessing the universal services. He does not know about thresholds. Miraculously he has been prevented from that, whether you call it the terrible tyranny of the tier, or whatever. He just knows that in this local area he has been helped to address the complex problems that at various stages he has had—as we all have—and is now back in what is a very classy children's centre. But children's centres need to do something dramatic about opening of access, whether it is about age or complexity of need, if they are really to realise the ambition of Every Child Matters. I should like to come back at some point and have—I will not say a rant, because I am sure that is not Select Committee language—a little chat about how I think family centres should not be completely overlooked in contributing to that agenda. This is not a free advert for my recently published book, but family centres—

  Q64  Chairman: Would you tell us the name of the book? Hansard cannot see you holding it up.

  Professor Tunstill: Now that you have asked me, I have deliberately brought it, as you can see, because this is a tribute to Government. Government and indeed everybody else underestimate the extent of the knowledge that we, financed by the British Government, have. We do not need to turn endlessly across the Atlantic, though that is not to say that there are not helpful things over there. I have brought the two most recent overviews. I am sure that you have seen one of them. I shall just give an overview, because it is a little bit of an advert for the British Government. This is not party-political: one of the books I have brought was commissioned under the Tories, and one is more recent. [Interruption.] That is true, but it could have been disseminated more widely; there is a foreword by Margaret Hodge. One is about the overview of a range of very complex and interesting studies on how best to support a range of families, and one is about what is, and is not, working well in the Children Act 1989. My book is among some studies that were commissioned. The overview, Supporting Parents: Messages from Research, was written by David Quinton, Department for Education and Skills and Department of Health, in 2005. An earlier overview called The Children Act Now: Messages from Research was published in 2001. They focus on what the studies tell us. My study, which was overviewed, was a national study of 520 family centres. It looked specifically at the role of the centres in co-ordinating and facilitating networks for families. It is called Improving Children's Service Networks: Lessons from Family Centres by me, Jane Aldgate and Marilyn Hughes. It was published by Jessica Kingsley in 2007. Along with other studies, it underlines the role that family centres can play in cases such as the one that I have just outlined. At an episodic point in time, delivering a higher level of support and encouragement will enable families to come back into the virtuous, universal framework of children's centres' services.

  Chairman: You have probably put Hansard in meltdown.

  Professor Tunstill: I can e-mail this.

  Chairman: Jane, do not worry, we have got there. I am looking at Hansard reporters and they are nodding.

  Professor Tunstill: I can even leave them with you.

  Chairman: That is absolutely fine. When you refer to this one, it is difficult for the reporters. I describe myself as the warm-up person. We have warmed you up and you are in good mode. David, you are going to start here. Hang on, let Annette intervene very quickly.

  Q65  Annette Brooke: Although I have visited both children's centres and family centres, I have not got a clear picture of how they work together. I have not got a mind map of family centres and children's centres. Do they interact?

  Professor Tunstill: I do not want to abuse my share of the air time.

  Chairman: I will punish you later.

  Professor Tunstill: Yes, unless careful thought is given to it, they do not interact, but they could. I am not suggesting a parallel ghetto-ised service. This is relevant to a conversation that Mary and I were having earlier about the role of the voluntary sector in delivering services. In the new world, the voluntary sector agencies are sometimes particularly good at setting up and running family centres. One of the virtues of family centres—then I really will shut up about them—is that they are able to work with a much larger age range. Children's centres are constrained with the under-four proviso at the moment. Family centres can deliver a very broad range of functions, as indeed they do. Just to get one more plea in, they can also help children who feel embarrassed that the extended school is being seen as the repository of all of their parents' woes. Caution needs to be paid to assuming immediately that the extended school is the right place to take problems in the family. For some children, going to school is the asylum in their day. Having Mum and Dad going in and screwing that one up is not what they would choose. You, Anne, in Calderdale will have examples of family centres working collaboratively alongside children's centres, but it is not a given. It is not required in the children's centre guidance, and it could be.

  Q66  Mr Chaytor: May I ask Margaret, and perhaps Anne also, about the whole question of family support services and whether there is a common understanding of what family support is? In your opening statements, you have all used the words "support" and "early intervention" in a fairly free way, but what do they really mean? Is there an agreed definition that each of the major organisations and local authorities share?

  Margaret Dillon: Yes, I would say that there is shared understanding. How it is defined is dependent on particular local authorities. In my agency, where we work with more than 82% of local authorities across the UK, we deliver family support provision that is tailored to suit the needs of communities within those local authorities, so the shape of the services will look different according to the needs of children and families within local communities. Obviously, you are delivering a different shape of services within a very rural environment from that required for a very urban environment. Invariably, however, the services will consist of a range of direct support work with children, either one to one or in small groups. So we run children's groups from our family centres or within our family support services. We run parenting support. We will provide counselling and anger management, and we teach behavioural skills. We will offer budgeting planning and household planning. A range of packages is open to families, once you have undertaken the assessment that Anne was talking about. You then identify the family's particular needs and where they need help and support. Then they can access those services over a time-limited period. So there is a continuum of provision that is flexibly delivered to meet the needs of the child and the family.

  Q67  Mr Chaytor: Anne, does that match with what you do in Calderdale and how does your activity in Calderdale match with, say, Kirklees or Bradford, your neighbours?

  Chairman: You will know that David was at one time a councillor in Calderdale.

  Anne Scarborough: In Bradford?

  Chairman: No, in Calderdale.

  Anne Scarborough: I apologise.

  Chairman: Just for your information.

  Anne Scarborough: I worked in Bradford as well. It is a very complex sector; it is not straightforward. I am sorry to say that. What Margaret said is absolutely right; I do not think that there is really a clear definition of family support. The services that I lead and manage are very varied and very wide, ranging from children's centres to extended services in schools to inclusion services, which is all your special education needs services, and young people's services or youth services. All those services provide some type of family support. So, the youth service, for instance, provides positive activities for young people, which supports families by providing somewhere for children to go and things for them to do, from the age of 13 onwards. Children's centres obviously serve a narrower age band, for children up to the age of five, and obviously schools are for children aged from five to 16, or five to 19. So, within that framework are universal family support services, including a family information service that we have just set up. In fact, the first day that we set it up, the first phone call we received was from a parent asking how old a child has to be before they can go and have their navel pierced on their own. I cannot remember what the answer was.

  Chairman: I am sure it is the same as other things. It must be 16; it should be 18.

  Anne Scarborough: I think that it is probably 18.

  Chairman: Thank God for that.

  Anne Scarborough: So we have services ranging from a family information service, which is a universal service, right through to a family support service. Going back to what Margaret said, that family support service supports families around an assessment of need and we will go in and work with those families. Along that range of services are services such as the behaviour support service, whose staff are all trained in Webster-Stratton parenting support, which is a particular form of support that can be given to parents, through to something that is called social emotional aspects of learning, which children now learn in schools as part of a behavioural and emotional support programme. There are also extended schools, where we have parent transition programmes, for the transition from primary to secondary school, which is always a very scary time. So there is a range of services. In Calderdale, we have just written our parenting support strategy and we engaged Rathbones to undertake mapping and auditing for us, because everybody was telling us that they were providing parenting support and so we needed to find out what it was. We found through the mapping exercise that a lot of the support is around intervention at the more acute end, tiers 3 and 4. We do not have enough support at tiers 1 and 2, not necessarily to stop people going into acute, but to get hold of the problem before it becomes acute. That is the key. When we think about it, that is the key to medical matters or whatever. We have parent link workers at our children centres. They are front-line workers who knock on doors in SureStart areas. If they have not seen a family for a while or have located a family who have not been in touch with the children centre, they will contact them. That is crucial to the sustainability and continuity of some families because they know the person.

  Q68  Chairman: Who is this person?

  Anne Scarborough: A parent link worker. They are first-line workers. They are not official. They do not have a social worker background, so the role is not hard-edged. They encourage parents to use the facilities within the children's centres. Because we can now drill down statistically to houses and streets, we have analysed through the foundation stage profile those children who did not succeed in communication, personal, social and emotional aspects. We shall look at those families to see if other children might need ongoing support, so we can target interventions. We are not targeting at the acute end, but at tiers 1 and 2—the universal and preventive end. Family support is complex. It is about supporting children. We provide a young people's service and support children so that they are safe and healthy within their families and their communities. Community support is crucial to families. A lot of them who are excluded from their communities do not have that support.

  Q69  Mr Chaytor: May I ask Mary a question, and then switch to Jane? Mary wanted to say something earlier. She was nodding vigorously in dissent.

  Mary MacLeod: Yes, I was. It is very difficult to define family support. People mean different things by it. That is a difficulty in planning services. We did some mapping about five years ago of family support throughout England and Wales. It was clear that the two areas critical to helping families were thought by local authorities to be outside family support: supporting adult couple relationships and interventions with the whole family, which were much less often considered to be part of family support. However, most of the time that is spent on family problems is devoted to entrenched relationship difficulties. We think that it is really important to have couple relationship support, and want family skills that are generally described as family therapy to be part of the range of provisions to come under family support. One of the big difficulties is that practitioners are trained in silos. They are trained in work with children or parenting, but actually we want practitioners with a real toolkit to be the one person who can run a family group conference, work with a couple, work with a child and manage practical problems. It is really difficult to have interventions in the problems of families and children that will make a difference.

  Professor Tunstill: Two things, one specific thing that I would add to the list of activities that, as the Audit Commission said, would provide support to parents to help them bring up their children, is respite care. We are looking at the looked-after system and I do not think that one should assume that a child being looked after in a period of respite foster care is a badge of failure. That can often be an important service within the family support spectrum. It can relieve stress in the short term and the child can then go home. Picking up on the important work force issues that Mary raised, we lack proper data about the family support work force. About a year ago, I was commissioned by the Children's Workforce Development Council, along with June Thoburn, to do a scoping study of the family support work force. The summary is on its website, but I am not sure whether the whole report has been published. It is astounding how little we know about the qualifications and identities of the myriad workers in any one authority or agency who are delivering family support. One of our recommendations was to add a specific category of family support worker to the minimum data set. Currently, the Government do not collect data on that. The report is called Scoping the Family Support Workforce and should be attributed to the CWDC. It is a study of the complexity of family support and outlines how many professionals, as well as members of staff who are not professionals, contribute to the task of supporting families.

  Q70  Mr Chaytor: You have anticipated my next question. I will pursue that point for a moment. On the concept of family support workers, what basic training and qualifications would you expect a family support worker, as distinct from a social worker, to have?

  Professor Tunstill: Just to be bloody-minded, it is difficult to say that a family support worker is distinct from a social worker. What I was trying to get across was that part of the role of lots of workers might be family support. Part of a social worker's role will be family support. In my view, any good social worker will be doing family support. Trust me, I have taught social workers for years and years and most of them go into social work to deliver something closer to family support than child removal. Family support is part of the social work task, but at the same time it could be part of the role of a speech therapist, a psychotherapist, a mental health worker, a health visitor, an outreach worker, an early-years worker or anybody who is working in what is called "the team around the family", although I cannot say that I am mad about that phrase. Anyone working in a profession that families are likely to encounter, should have part of their qualification in family support or there could be a case for a family support worker qualification. However, whatever decision is taken must not be seen to rubbish all of the work that is going on or to throw out the baby with the bath water. That is why I support the minimum data set that would build the information in a bottom-up fashion. You are absolutely right about training and qualifications: we are at a very tricky stage with a range of qualifications. I will be very sad if, in the foreseeable future, social work becomes equated with working only with families who are in tier 4. They must have the capacity to do family support input. In many ways, social workers are the most skilled outreach workers because they are trained to engage with the most challenging families. Do not forget that a part of what they do is family support.

  Q71  Mr Chaytor: But as of now, there is no distinct component to the training defined as family support.

  Professor Tunstill: No, and this discussion is really helpful. May I again put in a plea that family support workers should not become just another silo or another sexy new profession? I am sorry, I should not have started on this issue. It would be sad if it was seen to undermine the contributions made by many workers, including volunteers, who with the right support can offer amazing levels of intense family support that can contribute alongside the capacity of any paid member of the work force.

  Q72  Mr Chaytor: Margaret, I want to pursue the matter of integrated services, the importance of which you referred to earlier. Is there not an inevitable tension between workers who are defined as family support workers or who are in a family support role, and the social workers' interest in safeguarding children? How, within an integrated service, can that tension be resolved if there is one group of professionals whose prime objective is to keep the family together, support them and improve their capacity to rear their children, and someone else, the social worker, whose prime concern is safeguarding the child from abuse?

  Margaret Dillon: In all our services, we are explicit that safeguarding is everyone's responsibility, whatever their job title happens to be. We push hard for people not to assume that, as soon as there is a child protection issue, it belongs somewhere else. They have as much responsibility to identify and work with those issues as anyone, with additional support if it is required. We are trying to avoid silo thinking within our services, where people think, "I do not need to worry about protection issues for children because I am only doing family support." Actually, family support is all about safeguarding children and ensuring that they are supported to fulfil their potential and that they are kept safe and well. So, we must avoid that kind of artificial distinction between child protection and family support, as they are one and the same thing.

  Mary MacLeod: That distinction is strongly felt by families and children. That is why families will often use services that are not labelled as local authority ones, although they will work in the way that Margaret has described and consider safeguarding as an important part of what they are doing. The voluntary sector is seen very differently by families. For example, there are evaluations of a service provided by the Family Welfare Association, which is very much focused on families on "the edge of care", as we call it. In the evaluations, the parents are saying, "It was so good to have Janet; she was more like a friend to me. She was not like a social worker. She was not going to take my children away." We have to realise that the social work profession and the term "social work" are now associated in people's mind, particularly those who are most nervous of losing their children, with the bogies who are going to come and take them away. There is a problem in what to call them. Yet, you hear from children in care—I have read the evidence that you heard last week—who are saying, "We want our social worker." Children are focused on the social worker as being the person who should come to see them and do stuff with them. Yet, for the family, the social worker might be very scary. You are absolutely right that it is difficult to manage that transition between caring and supporting, and controlling and setting boundaries.

  Chairman: We will come back to those issues, but I must include all my colleagues and we have six sections of question to ask you. You will return to some of these issues.

  Q73  Mr Stuart: The Government are fond of pilots and initiatives from the centre. Are they a fruitful activity or are they taking away focus from universal, consistent services?

  Anne Scarborough: I shall answer that, as I have just spent a week putting together a bid for one of your pilots. Pilots are fine in that they focus the mind. We have just put forward a family pathfinder bid. If they are done as part of the work that you are already doing, that is absolutely fine; but if they are done just to chase funding, that is when you can get into a mess. The mess comes when you realise that the funding stops. That is one of the biggest issues that I would like you to take away with you, that short-term funding in this area of work has more negative than positive outcomes. Children's centres are a prime example. The children's centre SureStart grant is starting to be reduced. Of course, what you do when you set out on these activities is that you employ a lot of people. For a council, it has to continue employing those people or make them redundant, so it has to build those costs in. The other aspect is that, quite often, you have trained people. Calderdale is very small, so when we train people we put a lot of effort into training them. We have some excellent people. However, you will have noticed from the size of my job that, because we are small, we have to do a lot for our money, as it were. That means that sometimes certain skills can be lost. You may receive a year's funding, but it takes you a year to get something going; you do not see a benefit from just a year. We are only just beginning to see the benefits of children's centres, for instance.

  Q74  Mr Stuart: So have there been pilots that are funded for just a year?

  Anne Scarborough: Some of the funding that I inherited was just for a year.

  Q75  Mr Stuart: Can you give us some examples?

  Anne Scarborough: Yes, I can. Some of the Connexions funding, which came through for positive activities and for keeping young people in employment and education, was a year's funding. A year's funding is difficult to manage. The pathfinder bid is for three years' funding and the application has to show how that funding will be sustainable; sustainability is the key really. It is not that the funding should carry on so that you can do the same thing. Going back to what Mary was saying, you need to maintain your level of skills, so that you can be flexible in the support that you provide. Quite often, what we need to look at is providing a new kind of service to support families who are in need, or families who are at risk of being in need.

  Professor Tunstill: From the viewpoint of the local authority, I absolutely understand all those issues. Speaking as a researcher, I also think that it is very important to be clear about what a pilot is and what it ought to be. A pilot ought to be a scientific asking of a question—for example, "Is this an appropriate thing to do, and let's find out whether it works?"—before we commit ourselves to going on after the pilot. I am sure that I am not the first person to have raised the disquiet around the privatisation of social work practices for looked-after children at the moment, which is being set up as a pilot and backed by Professor Julian Le Grand, Alastair Pettigrew and various other people. I know that there was an extended debate in the House of Lords—I do not know whether one is allowed to talk about the House of Lords in Select Committees—and all sorts of reservations were expressed, most articulately by Baroness Meacher, about what a pilot is. Of course, it is a political—with a small "p"—decision. If you really want something to work and to carry on, even if you suspect that it may not be the best answer, you put loads of money into it in the short term, disadvantage the other services that you are comparing it against—I would say that the looked-after system in local authorities is a good example of that—and throw loads of money at these private practices. So there are some big questions about methodological rigour, as well as the very important questions about viability of robust service delivery and the implications for the work force.

  Mary MacLeod: There are particular problems with initiatives for the voluntary sector. At the Family and Parenting Institute, we have been responsible for managing two very large projects. One was the parenting fund, where central Government quite rightly put money into the delivery of family and parenting support locally, but distributed it through national voluntary organisations. The second was a fund called the early learning partnership project. Both of those projects have been time limited. Particularly for very small voluntary organisations, the churn involved even in two or three-year funding that will then stop is considerable. You lose capacity, as people see the end in sight and leave jobs, and you lose skills. It really is very difficult to manage. The whole localism agenda is making it quite difficult for small voluntary organisations, which have a really good approach to supporting parents with learning disabilities. Margaret might feel that it is easier for the larger ones, but small organisations have to search around for money and their position is terribly unstable. It would be a really great loss to family support for such organisations to lose funding and go out of business.

  Q76  Chairman: Can you expand on the new localism agenda?

  Mary MacLeod: I mean where decisions about commissioning are made locally. You cannot argue against it on many levels. Anne, you know what your business is in Calderdale, as do others in their locality. However, as you were also saying, family circumstances are so incredibly diverse. There are various niche areas in which voluntary sector organisations have built up experience, but they are often national organisations and they do not have the capacity to put in bids to 150 local authorities. They may lose out to private sector organisations which have the capacity to manage tendering processes. It is a question of whether a different regime of tendering should be considered for some of the national voluntary organisations.

  Q77  Mr Stuart: There is the classic question which is relevant to all sorts of services. Do we have too much central prescription and initiative distorting local effectiveness, or do we have patchy and inconsistent local services, which could do with greater central direction and uniformity?

  Mary MacLeod: I would say it is a mixture of both. Again, to refer to the mapping exercise that we did, we found that local services really wanted the benefit of some organised thinking on parenting and family support. They do not want to have to invent the wheel in every single local authority, so there is a real place for central guidance and support, especially for the pilots and demonstration projects that enable you to build up the case for developing such services. However, it can feel like instruction from on high. As with all such things, it is a balance.

  Q78  Mr Stuart: In terms of developing new approaches, you talked about pilots. How good are we at analysing which new models are bringing benefit and sharing best practice with other areas?

  Mary MacLeod: I think that we are getting better.

  Professor Tunstill: I am aware that I am saying this in the context of a current tendering process to set up a new organisation called the Centre for Excellence in Children's Outcomes, which I understand will have a brief to disseminate good practice. Like apple pie and motherhood, no one can disagree with that, but I happen to think that we are doing an awful lot of it already. Lots of organisations are doing a very good job—I am thinking of Social Care Institute for Excellence and the National Children's Bureau. The Government should have given greater thought to the dissemination of this huge amount of research, all of which is written up in terms of implications for practice. You have a huge dissemination of good practice going on in higher education institutions through a variety of professional qualifying courses. I think that we are quite good at providing examples of good practice, and the Government have a good track record of requiring reports of instances of good practice. I know that because I have to produce them. I do not know whether you saw the summary of my safeguarding report within the national evaluation of SureStart, but the emphasis was on identifying real things happening and publicising it as examples to other authorities? All I am cautioning against is pretending that we are starting with an empty slate.

  Chairman: No one was suggesting that.

  Professor Tunstill: I think that is the assumption of the centre.

  Q79  Chairman: This Committee has to look at a whole range of services. In our schools remit, for example, we know that there are many good schools in this country, but some schools are in dire circumstances, for all sorts of reasons, and a lot of attention is paid to them through Ofsted and other means. I have a feeling that you were being a little protectionist just now.

  Professor Tunstill: I was?

  Chairman: Yes, let me tell you why I thought that. Surely we need the best outcomes for children in children's services. Whether that is supplied by the third sector, the private sector or in-house in a local authority, surely the outcome must be the main thing, rather than who delivers it.

  Professor Tunstill: I agree entirely. I am not talking about who delivers it. I sometimes think that in England in particular, although also in Scotland and Wales, there is an assumption that we do not have enough of an evidence base, and that we, nationally, are not confident about the nature of good practice. I was making a general point. I do not disagree with anything that you have said. If I sounded defensive, it was because I think we should be more proud of what we already commission research on in this country and what we already know. Obviously I come from a social care background, and I totally agree with you that the only news for newspapers is the failure of a social work decision, or a failing school. It is rare for huge amounts of attention to be paid to the good-news stories because they are simply not news. I do not disagree with that, but I want to remind us how much we already do know and how much is routinely disseminated.


 
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