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Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, on introducing the debate so vigorously. Her commitment to getting

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the best for children is well known and we have much in common on that. It is always a pleasure, even when difficult issues have to be faced, to discuss children’s welfare in your Lordships’ House. There is unfailingly across the parties a deep concern for the welfare of children, and between us we have significantly influenced legislation on many occasions. I declare an interest as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Children and I will be referring to the outcomes of one of our meetings later in my remarks.

I want to address two specific issues in relation to children’s services. The first is the importance of collaboration and co-ordination across the diverse interventions focusing on children and families, which was the basis of the creation of our new children’s services. The second is in relation to children in the youth justice system and how that relates to the new children’s services. But as an introduction, let me say that I am proud that this Government have put children so firmly on the agenda. In the debates following the gracious Speech, I quoted the Children’s Commissioner for England—no government lackey, he—who said that more has been done for children by the Government in the past 10 years than in the previous 50, and I think that that is so. There have been terrible examples of child abuse, revealed most recently in Haringey and Coventry, but simplistic blame is not a solution. I look forward to the progress report by the noble Lord, Lord Laming, on the implementation of effective arrangements for safeguarding under the children, skills and learners Bill in this Session of Parliament, which will strengthen children’s trusts arrangements. We must keep trying, but we must not keep revolutionising in panic mode—the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, made reference to change earlier. After the Climbié case, reformation and reorganisation were essential.

A significant recent statement from Barnardo’s said that there is no need for further reform of children’s welfare policy, and it is worth quoting:

“The key to keeping children safe is to assist local authorities and partner agencies through local safeguarding children boards ... to continue to develop services and processes in line with Every Child Matters and to enhance practice skills and support staff in frontline services”.

How true. The Local Government Association identifies the recruitment and retention of high calibre individuals, particularly in children’s social work, as a key issue. Of course nothing will work if the individuals in a system on the front line are not of a high calibre and prepared to talk to each other.

Inspection should be not simply about performance indicators but about the quality of interventions and the identification of support and training needs and the follow-up. It is a matter of looking at processes within the services, not just outcomes, because the processes will influence the outcomes. That is one reason why I, among others, am concerned and somewhat doubtful about Ofsted inspecting children’s services.

It is still early days for the new children’s services, and much has been achieved. Every local authority must now establish a children’s trust board and bring together a range of front-line providers into the duty to collaborate to improve children’s well-being. This collaboration is essential for the improvement of services:

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health through PCTs, education in all its forms, social services and, where necessary, the youth justice system need to be talking to each other at a front-line level.

I shall give an example of how a determined individual in all this can make a difference. A wonderful head teacher from Woolwich attended one of our All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children meetings. She described her school as being in an area of high deprivation and a crime hotspot. When she arrived, the school had low expectations and major behavioural problems. She says she was driven to breaking point but decided that she must do something drastic. She put together a plan for the school, collared the local director of children’s services on his way to work and went through her plan. She got the local authority on board, she got investment in the school and she involved extended services including Sure Start, parenting classes provided by the local college, a drug awareness programme, family therapists, sports organisations, drama, music and art, ICT, health, social services and so on.

The result has been an excellent recent Ofsted inspection, good staff retention, a lack of complaints and what she described as “a real buzz” in the school as a centre for the community. She believes that the success of the scheme is down to working with all the partners and giving ownership to staff, parents and pupils. The school in Wandsworth where I am a governor has a similar story. That is how services should work together, talking to each other—not necessarily based on schools, of course.

Now, a word about youth justice. Many children’s organisations, including the National Children’s Bureau, Barnardo’s and the Children’s Society, express appreciation that the DCSF and the Ministry of Justice are taking a joint approach to youth justice. I, too, applaud that. There must be a relationship between the children’s trusts and the youth offending teams. Once the youth offending team becomes involved, children’s services sometimes seem to become disengaged, believing that the child will be catered for. Some young people, of course, remain outside the integrated children’s services structures. Young people who are seeking asylum, for example, should surely also come under the remit of the DCSF and of truly integrated services in order to receive care and support.

Justice has to be linked to welfare. Many children who offend have had difficulties in early life and can pinpoint the trigger for when things have gone wrong—the death of a parent, for example. Intervention has to come early, and at crisis points. The use of custody for 10 to 14 year-olds has increased by 550 per cent since 1996. More children are being locked up for less serious offences. Custody is expensive, at almost £186,000 a year per person. Children who offend or are at risk of offending and their families respond well to early interventions such as family therapy, restorative justice, and support through education, housing and mental health services. Custody is so often ineffective and expensive. Nearly 80 per cent of 10 to 14 year-olds will reoffend within a year of release. The recent Barnardo’s report, Locking Up or Giving Up—Is Custody for Children Always the Right Answer? is well worth a read on this topic.

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There are, of course, good intentions. The youth crime action plan has proposals to improve access to education, training, health services and planning for resettlement. I should like reassurance from the Minister that youth offending will be approached in a more holistic and rehabilitative way than simply through punishment. It is good that her department and the Ministry of Justice are working together and that youth justice is being taken seriously by the DCSF, but can she assure us that this will be an effective measure to help these young people in the youth justice system? I look forward to her response and hope that this important debate, introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, will be a focus for future action.

12.01 pm

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, for initiating this very important and timely debate. My interest in children’s services departments stems partly from the fact that my noble friend Lady Walmsley and I were involved in the passing through this House of the Children Act 2004, which set up children’s trusts. We expressed at the time some reservations about the composition and restructuring that was necessary for children’s trusts. Furthermore, I live in Guildford, in Surrey, and in this past year, Surrey has been named, along with Haringey, Doncaster, and Milton Keynes, as an authority that failed its joint area inspection of children’s services. I gather from my honourable friend Bob Russell that Essex has joined this infamous quartet.

In addition to being involved with the Surrey issue, I became interested in this area because last spring I became the special educational needs governor at the local primary school where I serve on the board of governors. The school serves one of the more disadvantaged areas of Guildford; some 30 per cent of pupils are judged to have some form of special educational need. As the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, indicated, behaviour in school is a key warning sign of problems at home. That is why it is so important that there is integration of the education services with health, social services and the youth offending teams, something that has been implicit in the setting up of children’s services departments.

I have for a long time been a firm advocate of the view that if only we can get help to some of these children early, we can prevent many of the problems of school failure, dropping out, drugs, vandalism and youth offending down the road. This cumulative building up of risk factors over a child’s life is now well documented and underlies the preventive strategies implicit in the Every Child Matters agenda and the Children’s Plan. To quote just one statistic, the KPMG Foundation last year calculated that the average cost to the taxpayer of a child failing to read by the end of primary school is between £48,000 and £53,000. By these standards, the £2,000 a year required for an Every Child A Reader programme, or the £26,000 required for an extra teacher to run nurture groups or a placement in a school, is insignificant compared to what could be saved.

Last spring, wearing my newly acquired hat as a special educational needs governor, I spent some time with the school’s special educational needs co-ordinator,

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or SENCO. Talking through the issues with the SENCO, I was shocked to discover how little help the school received from the local education authority, Surrey County Council—indeed, how the lack of support from the local education authority was positively constraining the help that the school could give. That was mainly because such help depended on an assessment of the needs of each child, which the school could propose but which had to be verified by the county experts—the educational psychologist, the behaviour management people and the language and learning experts. Here, we had a tale of missed appointments, constantly changing personnel—and therefore having to go back to square one with explanations—repeated suggestions of actions already taken by the staff and buck-passing between the child and adolescent mental health services and the LEA. The overall result was that some half a dozen children who needed extra, specialist help were not getting it. The school was doing its best, but where children needed, for example, extra speech therapy or specialist psychological help, they were just not getting it. This view was cemented a little later in the summer term, when I participated in hearings for exclusion of a nine year-old whose behaviour, which in all ways seemed to indicate some problems in the autistic spectrum, had led to a permanent exclusion. That would probably not have been necessary had his problems, flagged up by the school throughout the time that he had been at the school, received the attention that they needed.

I was not surprised, therefore, when, in July last year, Surrey failed its joint area review in relation to children’s services. The findings rang bells: poor completion of SEN statements with target timescales; insufficient analysis of needs; key shortages of health specialists, especially educational psychologists, occupational therapists and speech therapists; inconsistent and high thresholds for access to services; and high rates of permanent and fixed-term exclusions.

Perhaps more worrying, though, were failings in safeguarding, which ring bells in relation to the Haringey failings. They included: lack of robust procedures for checking that staff had CRB clearance; high and inconsistent thresholds for intervention by social services; poor quality and timeliness of initial and longer-term care assessments; high numbers of cases waiting for assessment; inappropriate closure of social care cases when another agency—for example, the NHS—got involved; significantly high numbers of special case reviews and a failure to learn lessons from them; poor management and limited auditing of case files; inconsistent provision for mental health needs; and major problems in recruitment and retention of staff.

These are major failings, but it is important to keep the issue in perspective, both in relation to Haringey and Surrey and to other local authorities. There has been extensive reporting following the Baby P and Karen Matthews cases, but I was much moved by a quote in the Guardian of 8 December from the team leader of social services in a northern city. She said:

“Our thresholds are now terribly high, compared with 15 years ago. We get literally thousands of referrals every month, and we have to check them all out. Huge numbers of children, for instance, are living with parents who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. We want to help the parents access services, drug treatments,

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things like that. But—depending on the impact—it's not enough reason to give the children a protection plan. We have to decide how resilient the children are. It's hard to assess. Sometimes, 10 or 20 years on, you see the impact was much harder than you thought at the time”.

She continued:

“Worst of all ... is the effect of government targets. Councils that assess a lot of children quickly score ... highly. But there's a correlation between speed and the danger of superficiality. Councils also score worse in performance indicators if there is a rise in the number of children taken into care. They lose points ... if they keep children on the equivalent of the at-risk register for more than two years. All the pressure is to get children off the system and to downgrade their needs”.

One has to be sympathetic to those who are at the front line and have to deal with these issues.

A number of lessons arise from my experience, along with the experience in Surrey and generally, looking across the whole perspective. First, staff recruitment and retention is a key issue and needs to be given priority. In Surrey, for example, the person in charge reckoned that she had 30 to 40 vacancies, but she was confronted by budgets being cut and staff vacancies being frozen. Then there is the sheer difficulty, given housing costs in an area close to London, of recruiting young graduates without experience, who need to be housed and kept in such an area, when there are many jobs available for them elsewhere. Staffing is a key issue.

There is a need for social services departments to link up with universities and perhaps offer apprenticeship places. We need graduate apprenticeships, so they can grow their own and develop their own social services. Then there is the using of key worker housing, and so forth, and what are called golden handcuffs—offering big bonuses for those who stay within the department for a certain length of time.

Another issue is the one raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard—the avoidance of permanent revolution in departments. It is extremely bad for staff morale for staff to have to reapply time and again for their own posts, as has been happening. In Surrey, that was exacerbated by the fact that the county council itself went through a major restructuring review. You have to recognise that departments work much better when there is evolution and not revolution.

I wonder whether we are really making the best use of our resources. In special educational needs teachers and many head and deputies, we have a wealth of experience. Would it not be sensible to devolve more of the decisions down to the school level, or perhaps work as schools now do, within federations, to have an accreditation procedure within the federation, rather than constantly having to go to the local authority expert?

Finally—and this has been a general picture across many social services departments—there has been quite good integration between education and social services in many cases and with the youth offending teams. That point was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. But there has been constant failure to work with health services, in particular the children and adolescent mental health services. That is so important. Could the Government not help to get the integration of those structures?

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There are so many gains to be had. Children’s social services are important because they are an important slice of our future lives. The gains from earlier intervention and preventive action are so obvious and great, and the losses from the continuing fudge, muddle and making do so huge.

12.13 pm

Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for giving us this opportunity to talk about the functioning of children’s departments, where I believe some very serious errors have been made. We are just beginning to count the cost of those errors, both in the lives of children and the functioning of local authorities themselves.

It is inevitable that ghastly cases like that of Baby P grab the headlines. Investigations by the press and the Select Committee in another place have focused on how the reorganisation of children’s services has impacted on the social services and their care for deeply disadvantaged children at risk.

I should like to spend a few minutes thinking about the other side of the coin, which is the impact this reorganisation has on education and its knock-on effect on social services. As a former civil servant, I have great sympathy with civil servants who look at the problems that arise. Some were highlighted—failure of communication between social services and education, and, indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, between health services. Then they say to themselves, “It is all about children and there has been a failure of communication, so why do we not put them all together? Let us move social services and education into one great big parcel, and that will surely get them talking together”.

That is just not a correct way to think. Apart from the difficulties that creates and the time it wastes, you do not necessarily get people communicating better with each other simply because you have created different structures for them to do so. The real problem, which I have seen at close hand in my work with two local authorities in the past 12 months, is that these two specialisms of education and social services come from totally different cultures, quite rightly so, and speak entirely different languages about children, quite rightly so.

Social workers deal with some of the most distressing and difficult cases within our society. Their focus is on rescuing children who are in the extreme danger that we have seen, alas, in so many recent headlines and heartbreaking stories in the press. Educationalists think about things like the shortage of science or maths teachers, or the need for a revision of examinations to allow the brightest as well as the least bright in our schools to perform better.

The two bodies have different cultures. Bringing them together causes enormous difficulties in getting them to talk to each other. I do not for a moment say that of course they should not be talking to each other, but I repeat that simply slinging them together into one department and trying to mix them up in the way they work—and we shall come to the issue of inspection in a minute—is not how to solve the problem of communication. After a reorganisation like this, a

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lot of time is wasted in trying to get new ways of working, with endless meetings discussing how the new department should operate and who should do what, and there are the hard feelings of people who have not been promoted or who have lost what they saw as their importance.

I remember the days when departments of education and directors of education were huge, towering figures nationally. Their concern and knowledge of what was going on in their schools was a priceless gift to their local authorities and the children in those schools. That has now been so downgraded that it is sometimes difficult to know. Most heartbreakingly, many local authorities appoint only social workers at the head of the new departments. I have worked with one local authority where all three senior posts in the new department were given to social workers. Then they wonder why the head teachers find it difficult to communicate with them, and why the teachers feel neglected, unloved and uncared for by their local authority. It is just a wrong way of going about it—mixing them up and trying to get them all to work together, instead of using the huge specialisms of education and social work, and all that they bring in their experience and expertise to the problem.

The issue is not only at local authority level, although that is what we are concentrating on today; it is just as disastrous at national level. The Department for Children, Schools and Families no longer even contains the word “education” in its title, after over 100 years—from the early days of the Board of Education onwards. We now have only children, schools and families, which is not the totality of course. Further education and adult education feel left in a limbo. This is not just about schools. Vocational education and 14-to-19 issues are, in their own ways, just as pressing as the issues of child neglect. Just because there is a direct link between the issues of disadvantaged children and the way we shape our curriculum, it does not—I repeat again—mean that we have to deal with them in one department, either nationally or locally.

I find it difficult to understand why part of the reorganisation had to put together the two inspectorates, the children’s department and Ofsted. That seems to one of the key issues that has caused the problems of the past couple of years. I have enormous respect for the chief inspector, Christine Gilbert, who has dealt as well as she possibly could with the difficulty of bringing these two different cultures and ways of working together. But what a terrible indictment of the new climate of box-ticking it was when the chief inspector herself admitted to the Select Committee that the officials in Haringey had been able to hide behind the data. Less than a year before Baby P was so horribly tortured to death, the authority’s children’s services department had received a golden assessment of excellence from Ofsted because it appeared to have ticked all the boxes. Only when the inspectors went back after Baby P’s death and looked at what was actually going on did the faults and deficiencies become apparent.

I was struck by the fact that Christine Gilbert herself, in giving evidence to the Select Committee, said that when she had been a chief officer in a local authority she had not relied on Ofsted. She had gone

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and looked for herself. Well, right on! Absolutely! Surely we need an Ofsted that goes and looks for itself and does not just rely on box-ticking for every other assessment that it performs.

We need people conducting inspection into the social services aspects of children’s lives who are expert and experienced in that field. A criticism levelled was that an educationalist was in charge of the inspection of the social services for children in Haringey. Equally, how ridiculous it is to put a social worker in charge of an inspection of schools. I know I sound nostalgic, but thank goodness we still have HMI in Ofsted. There you have people who have been successful and senior in the job themselves, which is what you need. They go in and look at the teaching of history or physics, and understand whether it is being done well or badly from their own professional knowledge. They look at how a school is being managed and governed and know from their own experience whether it is successful or not. These are the kinds of people who should be conducting inspections, not this extraordinary mishmash—this amalgam—of people from different disciplines and with different expertise, all of whom can bring an enormous amount to bear if they are allowed to work in their own specialism.

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