1. The historical context of Labour’s Every Child Matters reforms
It is important that we never forget the appalling details of Victoria Climbie’s tragic suffering and horrific murder, in February 2000, not least because it exposed serious failings by the child protection services and staff responsible for her welfare at the time. The Labour Government acknowledged this tragedy with compassion, frank accountability, and a thorough, holistic, comprehensive legislative response that demonstrated some of the best joined-up thinking witnessed in any Government policy formulation.
Victoria was an eight year old girl, who came to Europe from West Africa, in the hope of a better life. She died of hypothermia, she had also suffered a heart attack, along with kidney and respiratory failure, after months of torture and neglect, inflicted by her brutal, sadistic great aunt, Marie Therese Kouao, and her boyfriend, Carl Manning. Kouao savagely beat Victoria on a daily basis with items like a shoe, a coat hanger and a wooden spoon and she also hit Victoria’s toes with a hammer. Manning beat Victoria with a bicycle chain. She spent her last days in an unheated bathroom, tied up in a bin bag, lying in her own urine and excrement. She was forced to eat the cold food she was infrequently given by pushing her face into the piles of food left for her, as her hands were bound.
Victoria’s abusers were jailed for life in November 2000. During the trial, police, health and social services involved in the case were described as “blindingly incompetent”. These agencies had failed a child suffering the most terrible torture and abuse, despite the fact that there was visible evidence of the abuse, professionals had failed to intervene on no less that 12 occasions. One of the key criticisms levelled at those professionals involved is that they failed to share information and pass on concerns to other professionals. There was no effective mechanism in place for confidential information sharing that crossed each agency’s professional remit boundary.
In January 2001, the health secretary, Alan Milburn, ordered a statutory public inquiry into her death, which was headed by former chief inspector of social services, Lord Herbert Laming. The Labour Government drove a moral impetus, in addition to implementing Lord Laming’s recommendations within a coherent and comprehensive policy framework, legislating to address the significant gaps in child welfare provision more broadly.
Child protection became EVERYONE’S responsibility and concern. Compassion, equality, holism, and the cooperative principle lay behind the far-reaching Labour reforms that followed. Every Child Matters is the overarching title for the significant, positive and comprehensive flagship policy, which required all public sector organisations working with children to come together to prevent any more tragedies.
2. The Common Assessment Framework: agencies and professionals singing from the same hymn sheet
Enshrined at the heart of Every Child Matters is the Paramountcy Principle: this states that the welfare of children is at all times paramount and overrides all other considerations. This reflects a “whole child” approach to welfare, wellbeing and protection, as well as a holistic inter-agency approach to achieving that. Using the Common Assessment Framework (CAF), professionals could identify the additional, complex and unique individual needs of the child.
CAFs facilitated the identifying of needs, and the allocation of a lead professional to co-ordinate the provision that was developed quite often by co-opting appropriate agencies and professionals, and by drawing together those professionals already involved in service delivery for the child/young person, who then worked together co-operatively, as a specialist ‘team around the child’. The CAF also facilitated goal-orientated practice and positive outcome based, tailored provision. The work was planned, monitored and evaluated throughout the process. Indeed monitoring and evaluation were built into the process, CAF paperwork and the database prompted continual scrutiny and accountability throughout.
One of the advantages for the child/young person concerned was that they participated in this process, by a degree of input regarding their own perception of their needs, in decision-making, and often, by allocating their own favoured professionals. These were usually the ones that had worked closely and face to face with the child, and had therefore established rapport and trust, and who had often initiated the CAF in the first place. CAFs could only be undertaken with the child/young person’s consent. In fact, the scope for young people participating and potential inclusion possibilities were among the best advantages of the CAF.
Lead Professionals were often chosen to undertake multiple CAF casework, because of their professional relationship with the child/young person, which of course applied to their other clients as well. The disadvantage, of course, is that these professionals, because of the very nature of their face to face work, and ongoing professional contact, were often in danger of being particularly overburdened with CAF-related work and team around the child meetings. It wasn’t untypical to have very heavy caseloads if you worked at a face to face level with young people.
The policy did encourage innovative cross boundary inter-agency working, skill sharing, pooling of resources and the development and sharing of good practices. Social care organisations also adapted to accommodate the new CAF work, and lead professional work became something of a specialism, with many of us also advising and training other practitioners in the field.
Each Local Authority also had a central CAF co-ordinator, whose role was to developed training, deliver policy briefings and updates, and to monitor each CAF that was open and ongoing. CAFs were used to identify and address all welfare needs of vulnerable children and young people, where appropriate. But CAFs also helped professionals identify a need for more rigorous child protection procedures, as well as the needs related to more general wellbeing and the other of the five ECM outcomes (see above). Quite often, CAFs triggered child protection procedure, and then were used in tandem with specialised, ongoing child protection assessments.
3. The reality check: how the ECM reforms translated in the field, and promoted good professional practice
One of Labour’s visions behind ECM was that of professionals from a broad range of disciplines working together to address all of the needs of the child ‘seamlessly’, regardless of the child’s background. There is a clear recognition that many circumstances may impact negatively upon the wellbeing of children. For example, most experienced social workers will tell you that mental health problems in children are strongly correlated with levels of parental income, which is in turn linked with socioeconomic and political contexts. Poverty is linked to a higher likelihood of a child having identified ‘additional needs’.
Lack of wellbeing and additional needs are linked with pupil distress, often manifested as ‘behavioural difficulties’ in schools, which tend to lead to high levels of exclusion. That exclusion is in turn linked with a higher risk of offending. Much of the caseload on the Youth Offending Team database comprised of young people with additional learning needs, young people with identified dyspraxia, autism, OCD, ADHD, and children who had suffered a bereavement within a two year period were also over-represented.
The previous Conservative Government had reduced special needs education and provision by cutting funding, this had resulted in units and special needs school closures and meant that many mainstream schools were very overstretched in delivering specialist provision. Although mainstreaming specialist provision may have encouraged inclusion, lack of adequate funding tended to mean that it didn’t.
The result was more exclusions for the groups of young people with (usually unidentified) special educational needs (SENS), and any other issue or condition that had an impact on their behaviour, typically, because of the lack of specialist resources, specialist knowledge of staff, and a certain view and management of challenging behaviours, because of an emphasis in mainstream schools on the common needs of all pupils, rather than the additional needs of individuals. CAFs shifted the focus and balance to ensure that each individual child’s needs were identified and provision was developed to ensure they were met.
Labour recognised all of the issues and interconnected circumstances that may have an impact on the wellbeing of children and young people, and this knowledge was used to ensure that the needs of our children were met on every level, from addressing child poverty, to basic nutrition in school, confidence and esteem building youth work activities, (informal educational opportunities became part of a youth work curriculum which included emotional health, sexual health, substance misuse awareness, where needs to address these issues had been identified, and social education, participation and citizenship were central to the curriculum).
There was a shift of emphasis from simple crisis management provision to the development of preventative, comprehensive social work, and youth and community work. The ECM Bill translated into a needs-led, flexible and multi-layered response, with participation and inclusion of children and young people in the decision-making processes becoming central to professional practice. As well as extending participation and inclusion, ECM was an exceptional equal opportunities policy that also recognised and accommodated diversity very well.
Labour’s extending schools agenda was also all about providing services for meeting the multi-faceted needs of pupils, families and communities. Provision such as breakfast clubs and after school activities also benefited working parents because there was a childcare element built into the provision. Healthy eating became important, because of the recognition that diet may have an impact on both behaviour and achievement, as well as on wellbeing and health. This linked in well with the broader aims of ECM. Inclusion and participation became integrated in practice, and also, together with Citizenship, they became part of both the formal and informal education curriculum. This had a positive impact on youth work, providing direction and an outcome-based focus for youth work practice.
Youth workers were often to be found delivering informal education programs in schools, and delivering the alternative curriculum courses, which focussed on personal development, such as Asdan. Typically, youth workers also engaged the ‘hard to reach’ pupils. Usually the same group that most often would face exclusions. There was something reassuring, in a way, in the discovery that professionals across the board of child welfare agencies had so many of the same young people in common on their caseloads – it meant we were most likely working with the young people and children that really did need the support and additional provision. It also meant we could now tailor support provision more effectively by joint assessment, planning and delivery.
Needs-led practice had a positive knock on effect. It worked on may levels, too. For example, one observation about the high number of vulnerable pupil exclusions was that teachers often lacked capacity in handing and diffusing conflict. This is not a criticism of teaching staff – most were under too much pressure to manage full to capacity classrooms to find time enough to pause and reflect on this issue, and the outcome was to the detriment of vulnerable young people – the ones I worked with, in particular.
Exclusions for ‘challenging behaviours’ happened quite often to the young people with unidentified SENs and other complex needs. The exclusions had a broader negative impact on outcomes, as stated earlier, school exclusions increased the likelihood of young people offending. There is also the likely negative impact on the child’s self-perception and esteem, the issues of stigmatising and negative labelling to consider, among other things.
School exclusion was an issue that concerned me, so I designed a course on “conflict management”, which addressed issues such as the impact of negative labeling on young people’s self esteem and wellbeing, as well as strategies for coping effectively and positively with conflict, based on an overall assessment of needs of the groups of young people that I worked with, and crucially, this incorporated training on the development of needs-led strategies, for staff. Part of this included planning responsive provision for young people with challenging behaviours.
I delivered the training to staff in five schools. I also worked with the groups of young people on esteem building and developing conflict management skills. The number of exclusions dropped quite dramatically, following the delivery of the training. Even more positive was the news six months later that exclusions were still much less frequent than previously. And both staff and young people reported much less conflict. Young people told me they felt they were “better understood” in school, and felt teachers were being “kinder” as a result.
The course became a useful practice tool kit for youth workers and other professionals, and the Youth Service also utilised the training. This meant that the resource could be used and re-used without me needing to deliver it again. That was essential, as the work was in addition to my statutory professional commitments of day to day case work and management. It became common to see professionals extend their practice and fully utilise all of their skills, and some of the needs-led work undertaken by my colleagues this way, was truly innovative, brilliant and beneficial to other professionals, in terms of professional and personal development, as well as to children and young people with need of support and protection.
4. How we let them know what we knew: information sharing and safeguarding
One way of linking professionals and information sharing was via the introduction of a database called Contactpoint. This was an effective way of professionals sharing concerns and information about their clients. It also introduced a significant level of professional accountability because every appointment, phone call, activity, and importantly, every action that was considered and taken had to be justified and recorded. Obviously, access to the database was restricted to relevant professionals only, and there were strict protocols and policies in place regarding data protection and access.
Contactpoint was a very good way of ensuring that provision wasn’t duplicated, (and so it helped prevent resources being wasted), and it offered an excellent opportunity for professionals to build on the work of other practitioners, share good practice, and it further encouraged cooperation, and joint work between different agencies. High professional standards were encouraged, good ideas shared. Professionals also learned new skills via the partnership work. Social workers could learn from educational psychologists, teachers, family intervention workers, health workers, youth workers and so on, and of course, the converse was true.
One other advantage of the Contactpoint database, besides casework based information sharing and accountability, was that it enhanced the safety and wellbeing of professionals. Contactpoint encouraged information sharing about crucial practice and safety issues, too. It also helped to encourage joint visits. For example, it wasn’t unusual for me to attend a home visit with an educational welfare officer, or a child psychologist and deliver provision in tandem, or build on their work.
Three of my colleagues were killed previously in Newcastle. Social workers are often lone workers, making home visits after school hours. Information sharing regarding the safety of home visiting is crucial, but had been critically neglected prior to Contactpoint. One of my colleagues was a social work student on placement. She made a lone home visit with a young man who had schizophrenia, and was tragically stabbed to death. That is one side of social work – the risks it entails – that seldom gets reasonable and adequate media coverage or acknowledgement.
One example of good partnership work was a family therapy project set up by two clinical psychologists, a paediatrician and two social workers, which I contributed to. I had always worked closely with CAMHS, and developed positive co-working relationships with the organisation, so felt this was a valuable opportunity for joint delivery of an excellent project. Parenting related issues were recognised as quite often having a negative impact on children/young people’s wellbeing. Of course, socioeconomic context matters, and we felt that this is too often overlooked in delivery of family services.
My colleagues and I were concerned that a ‘blaming the parent’ and stigmatising culture may evolve because of some of the professional emphasis on this one issue. We worked with parents and their children using a combination of group work and one to one sessions. The emphasis was on providing support and dialogue rather than being based on the notion of addressing a ‘parenting skills deficit’. Pooling of professional resources, skills and perspectives meant that this was an effective and successful project, measured in terms of ongoing monitoring and evaluation, feedback from parents and children, and successful outcomes for the child/young person.
We developed an innovative multidisciplinary, dynamic, flexible, responsive approach to therapy, that replaced the woefully inadequate and widespread dominant model – cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), used by so many trained and disillusioned practitioners at the time, including me. It became normal to attend service briefings that were pertinent to one’s own working practice outside of one’s own service, and to comfortably speak and share professional experiences to a broad range of professionals from mental health services, educational welfare, police, schools, for example, on a daily basis.
5. The Coalition: from all that mattered to the secretive dismantling of State support
Michael Gove certainly put the “Tory” in “peremptory”. When he took office in Sanctuary Buildings, it was as the secretary of state for education, not children. He gave Every Child Matters a swift name change, and a radical shift in focus, the very day after the Coalition came into office. Authoritarians plan well in advance, it seems, and set their designs in motion very swiftly. The new Government placed a ban on the phrase “Every Child Matters” as part of a widespread change in terminology within Whitehall departments. Details of the changes are revealed in an internal Department for Education (DfE) memo, split into two columns for words used before 11th May and those which should be replaced.
The phrase “Every Child Matters” was immediately replaced with the pseudo-meritocratic phrase “helping children achieve more”. Achievement was only one of the original five ECM outcomes, and the other four have now been dropped. Family intervention projects – another ECM policy development – have been disbanded, and that phrase is also banned from use within Gove’s despotic and linguistically pauperised Department.
One of the first things Gove did was to rename the original and expansive Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) as a considerably reduced Department for Education (DfE). The Every Child Matters webpages are still linked to this site, but with the warning that: “A new UK Government took office on 11 May. As a result, the content on this site may not reflect current Government policy.
All statutory guidance and legislation published on this site continues to reflect the current legal position unless otherwise indicated.”
Gove also recommended that Contactpoint is scrapped, with a focus on a “signposting system” (usually a direct referral) focusing on “genuinely vulnerable children”. This ridiculous statement implies that some children have somehow been fraudulently obtaining child protection and welfare services and support. And that professionals are not capable of recognising ‘genuinely vulnerable’ from not vulnerable. What this attempted “targeting services” rhetoric translates as is “we are going to cut funding”.
The original Department’s rainbow motif, complete with brightly coloured cartoon children – derisively referred to as “munchkins” by Conservative advisers – was ditched in favour of stark, austere, dark Conservative blue lettering. The Coalition have quietly pushed a shift from the Labour recognition of children’s potential, promoting their wellbeing and safety to a flat unidimensional standards-linked achievement.
Schools no longer have a statutory right to promote children’s spiritual, social and emotional wellbeing, and the Labour idea of self-aware and responsible Citizenship based element to education was also removed from the curriculum. (Though the Conservatives have changed the definition and terms of “responsible citizenship” subsequently, it’s now used as a form of state coercion to justify withdrawal of tax funded support provision). Ofsted no longer grade schools on this: Tory ministers seem to regard the ECM initiative’s goals as distractions from schools’ core purpose. No longer do children need to “enjoy and achieve” – just achieve. Local cutbacks are making it harder for schools to bring in specialised support. Once again. Same old Tories. Same old essential support provision being stripped away.
What was a ‘Children’s Plan’ under the Labour Government is now a “free market education plan”, marking Gove’s shift from free schools to ‘for profit’ schools. This, of course, is certain to cause institutional confusion, with each school having individual freedom, self publicity and marketing responsibility and with no universal statutory protection policy in place. The whole-child approach has been abandoned in favour of a narrow focus on “educational standards.”
Michael Gove described the Every Child Matters agenda as “meddlesome”, but what he really means is that this Government are not prepared to fund the health, safety, protection and wellbeing of every child that needs support. Labour ministers wanted to do more than just protect children, they wanted to “ensure that every child has the chance to fulfil their potential”. This Government are not interested in the welfare or the potential of our children.
It’s common sense that if you are really focused on improving attainment and helping children to achieve educationally, as Gove is claiming, that attainment is inextricably linked to their overall wellbeing. The dismantling of ECM has some very far reaching and negative consequences, for child protection and welfare, equal opportunities, acknowledging diversity, inclusion, family support, respite care, education provision (especially for those pupils that don’t have mainstream needs) are but a few that come to mind.
With the very challenging cuts that local authorities face, many have had to severely reduce their children’s social care budget by up to a fifth – forcing them to focus purely on their statutory responsibilities, and barely, at times. Labour’s development of the effective, comprehensive and, in my opinion, crucial preventative support services has been totally demolished by the Coalition. Apparently, Gove thinks that children and young people’s safety and wellbeing is optional.
68 per cent of our front line children’s services have had cuts to their budgets in 2011 alone. Bearing in mind these are also providing statutory services and considering that many local authorities are pessimistic about the future of these services, and with most charities previously funded to undertake ECM outcome based work – work with families in which children are struggling at school because of problems at home including poverty, adult mental health problems, domestic violence, substance abuse, truancy and poor housing – being also fearful for the future of the most vulnerable members of society. In some areas, support for vulnerable children of school age has just been cut from the budget completely. And as we know, the worst of the cuts are yet to come.
When the full extent of the welfare reforms is realised next year – the bedroom tax, benefit cap, the poll tax styled council tax via the Localism Bill, which are still yet to come, the numbers of children and young people facing substantially increased deprivation and poverty will rise steeply, with problems such as increased risk of neglect, risk of emotional and physical abuse – the resilience of parents is more likely to be affected by poverty (NSPPC 2008 Inform study recognises this link ) – mental health problems, lack of educational attainment and fewer life chances (further compounded by other punitive Coalition policies, that have significantly reduced equal opportunities) among other significant complex, interconnected problems becoming much more commonplace.
Poor and vulnerable children will need extensive support from both statutory frontline services and range of other support services that are no longer in place. The impact of Coalition cuts on the lives of so many vulnerable children and adults, together with the dismantling of essential welfare, support and protection services, will be catastrophic, and very likely, an irreversible horror that we – as a so called civilised society – will have to face.
“Each child’s story is worthy of telling. There shouldn’t be a sliding scale of death. The weight of it is crushing.” – Anderson Cooper
The shape of things to come? Privatisation for children’s services, education and support for those with additional needs in the classroom – http://eoin-clarke.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/5000-education-jobs-including-provision.html
Listen and learn Mr Gove. Posted on June 14, 2012: – ttp://www.labourteachers.org.uk/blog/2012/06/14/time-to-listen-and-learn-mr-gove/ – Baroness Maggie Jones
How poverty and deprivation impact on child protection needs – http://www.nspcc.org.uk/Inform/research/briefings/povertypdf_wdf56896.pdf
Parenting and poverty – http://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/files/jrf/parenting-poverty.pdf