A child might die
(Apologies for bad formatting earlier; now updated and improved)
Councils can not be seen as single entities. In reality a council is a
conglomerate of disparate enterprises and activities; ranging from
the absolutely crucial to the 100% optional.
Because of this, and despite constant calls from the Government for councils to stop acting in silos, each council develops departments with their own aims and power bases.
These departments come in all shapes and sizes; including such varied beasts as: environment services, adult services, cultural services, community services, transactional services, the chief executives department, corporate services, resources and many more.
However, by the far the biggest and the most powerful in any local authority is the children’s services department. This department rarely participates in corporate initiatives, always manages to bat away budget cuts, often rejects even the most kindly put improvement suggestion and never ever compromises on any issue. If one is so bold as to question this behaviour the mighty department simply turns round and responds with a sigh:
It takes the bravest of Chief Executives to do anything but crumble after hearing that; and I doubt there has ever been a politician who could resist that clarion call to inaction. One of my first ever managers had pointed out this tendency amongst the children’s services department and to be honest for the first few years of my career I sort of thought it was an urban myth.
However, as I have made my meandering way through local government I have learned that there is no situation in which the children’s team can’t pull the card. I’ve seen it in training sessions, in negotiations over IT contracts, in discussions of community budgets, in restructures of support services, in budget negotiations and randomly in discussion of partnership structures (the chairing and sub-group make up of a partnership board has rarely led to
anything that substantial).
It’s not that there is no truth behind the statement; after all the work done by professionals within the children’s services department is absolutely crucial and often massively under-appreciated. Indeed, evidence shows that sometimes poor performance by these crucial and dedicated members of staff can lead to the absolute worst outcome. However, it’s the flagrant use of it that annoys me.
Adult’s services could easily claim that cuts in their budget could lead to adult deaths, indeed some do, but for obvious reasons this claim is not taken as seriously. Plus,
it’s not really fair to apply the same call to the whole of the children’s services department; the whole department is
not directly involved in securing child safety (although those who work there would argue, with some justification, that everyone works indirectly to protect children in some way).
I’ve seen this tendency in multiple local authorities and wonder whether it is as widespread as my wise first manager once said. The problem is that finding out would probably involve investigating childrens services departments nationwide.
And you know what the response would be if anyone asked for that sort of access…