Goodwill's wider brief can join up child policy

Derren Hayes
Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Silo working in national and local government, and the pubic sector more generally, is almost endemic.

It often results in government departments making policies that contradict rather than complement that of others. Policies affecting children and families are no different. The introduction of the National Living Wage in April 2016 has raised staff costs for early years providers at the same time they are preparing to introduce 30 hours of free childcare. The problem is that the rate paid by government to the provider doesn't cover their rising costs - half that took part in pilots reported a fall in profit (News roundup, p4) - so many providers plan not to offer 30 hours.

Department for Education ministers will regularly call for greater investment in early help services so that vulnerable children and families can be supported before problems escalate. Yet government funding cuts mean the very services there to deliver that early help - children's centres, health visitors and parenting support - are withering.

Children's services face a projected £2bn funding shortfall by 2020 due to rising rates of child poverty and births. Yet new children's minister Robert Goodwill says there is "no magic money tree" and councils will have to get used to doing more with less (Analysis, p9). Investing in prevention is a must if councils are to cope with these rises in demand.

What would help councils do this is an overarching government strategy for children and families. Alison Michalska, president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, recently called for local authorities to return to the principles of Every Child Matters - the 2003 Labour policy that set out how children's services should intervene earlier in families' lives (News roundup, p6). Michalska urged the government to help children's services and local government leaders "to throw the juggernaut into reverse before children's services become wholly reactive, funded on a shoestring". Every Child Matters set five outcomes that all services should work towards achieving - being healthy, staying safe, enjoying and achieving, contributing positively and economic wellbeing. It was relevant to all services working with children, both universal and targeted.

Goodwill's wide brief - incorporating the portfolios of two previous ministers - could be a catalyst to developing a new broad vision. With responsibility for early years, social care, pupil health, cadets and social mobility, he is well placed to oversee a more co-ordinated and comprehensive policy agenda for children and families.

 

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