Services for Children

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2004 Local Government Service Group Conference
1 March 2004
Carried as Amended

Conference notes that, throughout the UK, services for children are under extreme pressure. In education, in social services, and in health care, despite the skills and dedication of hundreds of thousands of workers, the system is reaching breaking point and children and their families do not consistently receive the basic services required to ensure their safety and welfare.

Conference notes that, in the four countries, governments are developing different initiatives and strategies which aim to tackle this problem. We call on ministers to recognise that there is a big gap between the reality of services and the extent of the task we face to ensure that all our children are protected from harm and provided with the opportunity to thrive. We point out that poverty and deprivation still blight the lives of too many children.

We welcome efforts to ensure that key services work together more effectively in this task. We welcome the appointment of (or plans to appoint) Children’s Commissioners and we welcome acknowledgement from ministers that rewards, resources, and training for those who work with children need to be improved.

We note the recommendations in the Green Paper for England and Wales “Every Child Matters” and, while we acknowledge the value of some of the proposals it contains, we urge ministers to accept that no reforms can work if they are not funded adequately, if they do not allow for an expanded workforce, and if they do not command the support of that workforce. We argue that they should plan to review the funding of children’s services as their first priority and not to be misled into believing that organisational reforms alone, however desirable, will solve problems.

We welcome plans to set up “Safeguarding Children” Boards and to establish a national information system for tracking children at risk. We note with concern the proposals in the chapter on workforce reform and we urge ministers to accept that changes to pay, rewards, training and working practices are matters for collective bargaining and not for government directive.

We deplore the tendency of employers and of the media to prejudge Inquiries and to scapegoat individual workers when tragedies occur. We are concerned that there are a lack of clear guidelines on how inquiries into fatalities and other tragedies should be conducted. This creates a situation where there are inconsistencies in the professional and legal knowledge and understanding available to the inquiries. Some are conducted as if they are looking to apportion blame rather than to identify what went wrong. We believe that a set of standards should be developed for fatality inquiries that ensure a consistent and professional approach to all inquiries.

We note that there are common themes in the reports of inquiries into recent tragedies. We point out that failings in first-line management, which often arise from inadequate funding and constant reorganisation, are frequently a key factor. We believe that the crucial lesson has been that the best policies and procedures in child care are useless if they are left to be implemented by a workforce that is demoralised, overworked, under-resourced and without the right training opportunities. While there are 50,000 too few social workers and too few social care workers, we can expect mistakes to be made by overworked, stressed, undertrained, bullied but dedicated workers, doing their best in dreadful circumstances. UNISON will do everything in its power to support such workers, including explaining to the public the conditions these workers are or have endured, by using the national press office to give out a strong message that the system is to blame and not individuals.

Conference therefore calls on the Service Group Executive, on regions, and on branches to campaign for improved services for children and their families and

calls on ministers to ensure that the necessary resources are put in place to boost service standards and to plan all improvements and reforms in full consultation with the workforce and their representatives.