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Re-examining Two Decades of Policy Change
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Drawing on unique access to prominent policy makers including ministers, senior civil servants, local authority directors, and the leaders of children’s sector NGOs, Purcell re-examines two decades of children’s services reform under both Labour and Conservative-led governments.

He closely examines the origins of Labour’s Every Child Matters programme, the Munro review and more recent Conservative reforms affecting child and family social workers to reassess the impact of high profile child abuse cases, including Victoria Climbié and Baby P, and reveal the party political drivers of successive reform.

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This chapter and the next consider the development of children’s services policy since 2010, including key changes introduced by the Conservative Secretary of State Michael Gove. From the outset it was clear that schools reform would be the overriding priority for the renamed ‘Department for Education’. Moreover, under Gove’s Academies and Free Schools programme the broad emphasis on child well-being and the integration of children’s services, under Labour’s ECM framework, was largely abandoned as schools were afforded greater autonomy from local authority children’s services. Furthermore, the prioritisation of schools’ reform meant that services such as children’s centres and youth services bore the brunt of spending cuts, notwithstanding the Prime Minister David Cameron’s proclaimed commitment to the refocusing of early intervention services. In this context, the DfE distanced itself from the restructuring and hollowing-out of early intervention services at the local level, and NGOs campaigning in this area were largely ignored.

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This chapter discusses the development of the Coalition and Conservative Governments’ reform programme for child and family social work. Initially, the new Conservative children’s minister Tim Loughton sought to build on the work of the profession led Social Work Task Force (discussed in chapter 7), belatedly set-up under Labour after the Baby P case. This included the commissioning of the Munro Review of child protection. However, after two years Loughton was replaced as children’s minister and the Secretary of State Michael Gove initiated a new, more centrally driven, reform programme. Key policy developments included the reform of social work training, regulation and a new national ‘learning infrastructure’. Controversial plans to promote the increased outsourcing of child protection services to the private and voluntary sector were also pursued in the face of strong opposition from social work representatives.

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In this concluding chapter it is argued that the reform of children’s services over the past two decades has been a more politically driven process than is commonly recognised. Reflecting on the evidence presented in the book four key features of children’s services are identified. Firstly, the extent to which reforms have been influenced by apparent local service failings has been greatly exaggerated by ministers. Secondly, children’s services reform needs to be understood within the context of the broader economic and social policy priorities of party leaders and senior ministers. Thirdly, the ubiquity of structural reform to local children’s services reflects the activism of ministers and their need to demonstrate impact. Finally, the politicisation of policy-making in this area has been reflected in continual shifts in government-interest group relations, including the declining access and influence of children’s sector NGOs over recent years.

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This chapter outlines the rationale for the book and the contribution it seeks to make to research on children’s services reform and the public policy-making process. The emphasis placed on the influence of child abuse inquiries in previous research in this area is questioned. A brief overview of the chapters that follow is also provided.

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Comparative research has identified two broad types of child welfare system. In child protection systems the principal remit of welfare agencies is to identify and respond to actual or potential incidences of child abuse or maltreatment. In contrast family service systems are characterised by a stronger spirit of partnership between the state and families and an emphasis on working to prevent the need for coercive state intervention. This book examines the development of children’s services reform in England over recent decades to explain a shift from family service polices towards a narrower child protection approach. Successive waves of reform in England have invariably been framed as responses to high-profile child abuse inquires and media generated scandal including the cases of Victoria Climbié and Baby P. However, this book challenges the idea that it is the apparent failings of local agencies, including child and family social workers, that drive successive waves of reform. Instead, it turns the spotlight on the process of policy-making at the national level, and highlights the role played by party political leaders and senior government ministers in driving reform. The book is informed by 45 interviews with key decision-makers including ministers, senior civil servants, children’s charity leaders, local authority directors and social work researchers.

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Comparative research has identified two broad types of child welfare system. In child protection systems the principal remit of welfare agencies is to identify and respond to actual or potential incidences of child abuse or maltreatment. In contrast family service systems are characterised by a stronger spirit of partnership between the state and families and an emphasis on working to prevent the need for coercive state intervention. This book examines the development of children’s services reform in England over recent decades to explain a shift from family service polices towards a narrower child protection approach. Successive waves of reform in England have invariably been framed as responses to high-profile child abuse inquires and media generated scandal including the cases of Victoria Climbié and Baby P. However, this book challenges the idea that it is the apparent failings of local agencies, including child and family social workers, that drive successive waves of reform. Instead, it turns the spotlight on the process of policy-making at the national level, and highlights the role played by party political leaders and senior government ministers in driving reform. The book is informed by 45 interviews with key decision-makers including ministers, senior civil servants, children’s charity leaders, local authority directors and social work researchers.

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This chapter identifies two overarching narratives on children’s services reform in previous research and makes the case for more in-depth research drawing on public policy theory and data collected through elite interviews. Firstly, policy reforms are often seen to follow high profile child abuse inquiries and associated media generated scandals. Secondly, the collapse of the post-war social-democratic consensus, and the subsequent dominance of neo-liberal economic and social policies, has also been highlighted as a key driver of reform. It is argued that neither of these perspectives takes full account of party-political differences and ideological tensions in English child welfare policy, or the role of individual policy actors or organisations in driving reform. Drawing on competing theories of the British policy-making process it is argued the roles played by politicians, civil servants and Non-Governmental Organisation (NGOs) need to be considered. Details of the research process including those interviewed is provided.

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This chapter discusses the development of children’s policy during the early years of the Labour Government focusing on the reform priorities of the Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Chancellor Gordon Brown. Blair’s key children’s policy priorities were education reform and tackling ‘problem’ young people. Alongside this the Brown led Treasury pursued a ‘progressive universal’ approach to reducing child poverty involving reform of tax and benefits and investment in public services. It is argued that the Treasury’s control over the departmental spending review process provided it with a more effective lever to influence policy-making in Whitehall departments compared to No 10. It is also argued that the Treasury turned to representatives of children’s sector NGOs to bolster the case for tackling child poverty within government and to act as an alternative source of policy expertise to departmental civil servants and local statutory agencies perceived to be resistant to reform. It was during this period that the Treasury’s flagship Sure Start programme was initiated.

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The Labour Government framed structural reforms to English local government, initially proposed in the Every Child Matters Green Paper published in September 2003, as a direct response to the findings and recommendations of the Victoria Climbié Inquiry chaired by Lord Laming. This narrative is challenged in this chapter and the next. In this chapter it is argued that politically pre-determined proposals for structural reform reflected concern amongst the Labour leadership and senior ministers regarding the perceived slow pace of delivery for key government initiatives. The case for structural reform to improve the integration of statutory children’s services agencies was first made following an inter-departmental review of policy on young people in 2000, chaired by the then Home Office Minister Paul Boateng. On the day that the Inquiry was published in January 2003, the Secretary of State for Health Alan Milburn launched a children’s trust pilot programme to promote the commissioning of children’s services from a more diverse range of providers including those in the private and voluntary sectors. This was framed as a direct response to Lord Laming’s report even though the Inquiry had not considered any such proposal.

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