By Suzannah.Brecknell

14 Dec 2011

A workforce development manager says cuts have hit local authority support for vulnerable young people.

“I’m a workforce development manager for children’s services in an urban local authority in the South-East. It’s a fairly affluent town but with substantial pockets of deprivation and a lot of students, so it’s a very transient, quite youthful population.

My role is about getting the people with the right skills in the right place in order to provide services. Children’s services include education, social work, youth offending services, youth services, and early years care; there is also crossover with the health sector.

Many policies and initiatives developed by the Department for Education (DfE) are relevant to me, but the agency I’ve worked more closely with is the Children’s Workforce Development Council (CWDC), which is going to be closed next April.

CWDC has been brilliant; it’s a huge shame that it’s going. It’s provided a great online presence with forums, research and resources for workers; it offered opportunities to network and share best practice; and drove through many workforce reforms. Some of its functions are being transferred to the DfE but, as I understand it, it doesn’t look like the breadth and innovative reach of its work will be maintained, apart from in social work improvement.

Children’s services have seen many changes in the time I have been working in them. One positive change was the requirement that councils create a Children and Young People’s Trust to co-ordinate services in their area. In our area it took a while to get established, but once it was up and running it was extremely effective in promoting a multi-agency approach. The coalition decided there is no need for these trusts, so the whole structure has been dismantled. Councils also had a statutory responsibility to publish a children and young people’s plan setting out what they intended to do to meet a whole range of outcomes. Again, this responsibility has been removed, and in our council we are now struggling – we don’t have that high-level document which underpins everything else. Of course, the council could create a plan if it wished, and most councils do have an existing plan that lasts until next year. However, following a huge reduction in councils’ statutory responsibilities, youth services have been cut severely.

Another big policy change has been the removal of the Every Child Matters (ECM) policy, which set out national targets in five key areas for children and young people. The relevant workforce is enormous, and ECM provided a common language and skills for everyone working with that age group. It helped to encourage multi-agency working, which is crucial for protecting vulnerable children.

The government has also reduced the statutory responsibility for councils to provide careers guidance for young people: they only have to provide advice for looked-after children or children with special educational needs. This has led to drastic cuts in funding to the Connexions service, which gives personalised careers guidance to young people. Now many young people are dependent on what they may get at school. It was a short-sighted move, because teachers aren’t expert careers advisers.

Youth services generally have faced many cuts recently: informal education for teenagers doesn’t seem to be valued, and there is much more pressure to produce academic results. This means there’s a reduction in the support for vulnerable young people who need some help in that transition between childhood and adulthood. I think we saw some of the implications of this change in this summer’s riots. That was a group of young people who don’t feel that they are being listened to; who feel that they are suffering because of a lack of aspiration for young people across the country. Young people are being demonised and ignored. They don’t want to be compartmentalised into either being a scientist or mechanic; they need personalised help to support their individual needs and talents.

Many of the current government decisions around children and families work seem to be myopic: they should focus on early intervention and prevention because, in the long term, that’s a money-saving approach.

I also think there needs to be more focus on families which, to be fair, [communities secretary] Mr Pickles is trying to push forward through community budgets. From what I understand of community budgets, though, there’s no additional money – and there’s currently a shortage of professionals who are qualified to work with families.

To get services right we need to involve users in their design, and government needs to trust the professionals who work in these services. They are the experts in their field, and the children and young people they’re working with are experts in their own lives.
With the right support from professionals who have a real range of skills, children, young people and families can find solutions to their own problems that ultimately might save the public purse money."

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