A child might die

Street cleaners don

(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:

Do as I say or a child might die.

(From the Guardian)


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…

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13 Comments on “A child might die”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Rachael, PublicSectorBloggers. PublicSectorBloggers said: A child might die: Street cleaners don't have a chance Councils can not be seen as single entities. In reality a… http://bit.ly/ef0PY5 […]

  2. citizenr Says:

    Funny, I’ve never heard this and I work in chidlren’s services, albeit in the education department rather than social services (maybe I’m not senior enough). Believe me, they’re cutting children’s services with gay abandon over in my council.

  3. Performance Officer Says:

    Ha ha ha! yes, I’ve heard this one a lot! It even crops up in discussions about performance management (and, slightly more understandably, open data).

    Our adult care area are also prone to pull the ‘old/disabled’ people will die card though.

    As previous poster said, this is a real benefit of the scale of the cuts – everyone needs to contribute. I can’t believe there aren’t savings to be found in these departments that won’t necessarily mean people will die.

  4. Andrew Brown Says:

    When I was a councillor we had a phrase for the sort of approach described in the post; ‘bleeding stumps’.

    Whenever budget negotiations were started our Cabinet Member for Resources would look hard at each of his colleagues and demand that we not bring him bleeding stumps as our contribution to savings proposals.

    We all knew what he meant, bringing forward cuts that may have squeaked past the law but were politically impossible. In my time this included child protection issues but also library closures, how times have changed!

  5. J.G.Harston Says:

    Ten years ago our Social Services department was drowning under uncompleted adminstration and haemoraging money and not chasing up fees and incomes. We told them, ok, we’re going to LEND you £25 mil so you can invest it over the next five years in sorting yourselves out and getting the admin fixed so you can concentrate on the frontline work. Two years later we asked: where’s the first repayment? Oh, we’ve spent it all. What do you mean it was a loan?

  6. […] A child might die « We Love Local Government Our adult care area are also prone to pull the 'old/disabled' people will die card though. As previous poster said, this is a real benefit of the scale of the cuts – everyone needs to contribute. I can't believe there aren't savings to . […]

  7. googlegaga Says:

    a child molested exists in every nation, we can only minimize it, we just have to do our part to ensure we do what we can to help since they are the future

  8. […] According to my colleagues in adult social care (which is treated differently to those in childrens for obvious reasons) their budget for this year is going to be cut by something like 10-15%. This […]

  9. […] explain why this was the right thing to do. It is not good enough to use it as a form of blackmail (a child might die) but instead a real debate needs to be started and effort taken to really explain how social care […]

  10. […] I basically have a back office job. If I’m not in today, no one is going to die. […]

  11. […] departments to get what they want simply by uttering the words: ‘you can’t do that; if you do a child might die’ and picked our local government ‘Dear John’ letters featuring such classics as: Dear […]

  12. […] children’s services, declared that they couldn’t be cut for reasons as grand as ‘a child might die‘, whilst some individuals have considered how the whole situation affected them mentally and […]

  13. […] with my new policy of trying to find something lighter to end posts on, a blog from a council worker on the other side of the fence and suffering from the “children might die” defence […]

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