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 (ECM) 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. Effectively, the ECM policy was scrapped.
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 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 (a Tory- led Government health 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 been somehow 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 well-being and safety to a flat uni-dimensional standards linked achievement.
Schools no longer have a statutory duty to promote children’s spiritual, social and emotional well-being, and the Labour idea of a 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” since, 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 Goves 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 meant is that this Government are not prepared to fund the health, safety, protection and well-being 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 well-being. The dismantling of ECM has some very far reaching and negative consequences, for child protection and welfare, equal opportunities, acknowledging diversity, family support, respite care, education provision (especially for those pupils that don’t have mainstream needs) are but a few that come to mind.
Every Child Matters was a Labour policy, which was joined up thinking at its very best. The policy is the best in terms of child protection and welfare that we have ever seen. In addition to a robust and crucially effective and preventative approach to child protection (overdue since the beginning of social care, as previously the emphasis had simply been on “crisis intervention”), Labour’s ambition is to improve these outcomes for all children and to narrow the gap in outcomes between those who do well and those who do not.
In January 2001, the health secretary, Alan Milburn, ordered a statutory public inquiry into Victoria Climbie’s horrific 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, comprehensive flagship policy, which required all public sector organisations working with children to come together to prevent any more tragedies.
Enshrined at the heart of Every Child Matters was 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 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 provision 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, and CAF paperwork and the database prompted continual scrutiny and accountability throughout.
This was an outstanding comprehensive, coherent, robust child protection and welfare policy, formulated to prevent any more tragedies like the horrific abuse, torture and death of Victoria Climbie. Clearly, Gove doesn’t have the same priorities as the rest of us. The progress that ECM reflects in social work theory and practice, and other professions that involve work with children, was phenomenal. Now that progress has been undone by a Tory-led Government, whose primary concerns include how to make money from selling off our childrens’ school playing fields, and “for profit” schools, with the dismantling of Childrens’ Services, it is very clear that the current Government have no intention whatsoever of protecting our children and ensuring their well-being.
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 crucial preventative support services has been totally demolished by the Coalition. Apparently, Gove thinks that children and young people’s safety and well-being 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 also 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 is yet to come.
When the full extent of the welfare reforms is realised next year – the benefit cap, the bedroom tax, and the poll tax style 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, (the 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) amongst 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 should not be a sliding scale of death. The weight of it is crushing.” – Anderson Cooper