Monday, 23 February 2015

Labour’s big idea??

While the Tories have spent most of the last year messing about with their woeful outsourcing agenda – and doing very little else – it is now the turn of Labour to come up with a ‘big idea’ on child protection.

There is a lot that I don’t like in the reports of Yvette Cooper’s speech.

Firstly the emphasis is on co-operation between The Home Office and the Department for Education. Although “health” gets a mention, there appears to be no clear role for the Department of Health. That is lamentable because there is so much about child abuse and neglect that is health related that I cannot see how any important initiative can move forward without health being at its centre. Sadly Labour still seems to be ploughing on in the same furrow as the last Labour government’s Every Child Matters approach, which not only took responsibility for child protection away from the Department for Health but also somehow succeeded in marginalising many health professionals.

Secondly Labour’s initiative appears to be very much criminal justice led, announced by the Shadow Home Secretary herself and bristling with tough talk. Cooper is reported as saying that the priorities would be “… prevention of abuse, tougher sentences for offenders and quicker pursuit of those suspected of committing crimes.”

Thirdly it seems clear that what Labour is proposing is a central government ‘unit’, packed I expect with civil servants – and probably a few spin doctors - most of whom will never had any contact with an abused or neglected child. That’s a recipe for irrelevant and unrealistic twaddle, not sensible policies.

Fourthly the initiative is clearly top down: a little unit in Whitehall “driving” the changes. Again that’s a recipe for unworkable proposals, because it ignores all the practice wisdom and knowledge that there is out there. We need a bit of bottom-up for a change.

Fifthly I don’t like the emphasis on revolutionising child protection. Just what is it that Yvette Cooper and her colleagues know that the rest of us don’t? I expect that in the final analysis it will reduce to media friendly sound bites. I would have liked to hear much more about improvement, not revolution. Why British politicians of all parties seem incapable of realising that what child protection needs is steady and sustained improvement, not discontinuous and disruptive revolution, is beyond me. Perhaps there are no votes in it?

Lastly there was nothing in the reports of the speech about listening to the views of children and young people, of trying to understand their needs and wishes and of trying to design services that meet their needs. Not a priority I expect.