In my recent article for Public Servant magazine I speculated that the new ‘joined-up’ Children’s Services departments might have been a contributory factor in the failure to protect Baby P in Haringey.
Now it turns out that Children’s Services across the board are the worst performing service in English local government. The Audit Commissions latest CPA scores (comprehensive performance assessment) highlights the problem:
“In 2008, four councils (Doncaster, Haringey, Milton Keynes and Surrey) scored 1 [out of 4] for their children and young people’s service. The number of councils that achieved the top score of 4 fell from 12 councils in 2007 to nine councils in 2008. Children and young people scores deteriorated for 22 councils between 2007 and 2008. The children and young people’s service was the only service assessment to have a net deterioration in scores in 2008 and also had the lowest proportion of councils that scored 4 in 2008.”
Of course, this deterioration may not be solely, or even mainly, due to the problems associated with the new ‘joined-up’ children’s services departments. But the fact that the part of social services that was not absorbed into the new structures (adults) continued to perform well strongly suggests that it is the reorganisation that has caused the problem.
As I argued in my article organisational mergers of different functions do not guarantee better coordination, and may even disrupt and downgrade the minority service – in this case child protection and social services. The Audit Commissions assessments show that the reorganisation may have even impacted adversely on some of the education services – which make up by far the biggest, and in most cases dominant, component of the new organisations.
This does not mean ‘joined-up’ children’s services are necessarily a bad idea – some councils have clearly managed to make it work. But it is pretty clear that in the rush to ‘modernise’ and ‘join-up’ the possible downsides of mergers have been badly neglected – the consequences for child protection services appears to have been pretty dire. And it at least raises a question mark – or should – over whether ‘joined-up’ children’s services can be made to work effectively in the majority of cases.