Child Protection, shared services and accountability (2)

In my first post on this topic I traced the background to integrated and shared services and the possible direction of travel.

The current cultural hegemony in public services is that “shared” is good and that any rearguard action to resist that momentum is reactionary and self centred.

 I hesitate to recall a line from Orwell’s Animal Farm but there is something of the “shared services good, discrete services bad” about the current climate.

The reality is that no service can operate in isolation any more – particularly in respect to children’s services – where the needs of children and families are so complex that to try to deliver a discrete service to children would be to place their safety at risk. So let me make it quite clear from the outset that I fundamentally believe that working in an integrated and co-ordinated manner with other services and agencies to support young people is an absolute necessity.

Yet there exists potential for people to confuse integrated working with the current drive to consider shared services with other partners, i.e. we combine with them in a manner where governance is aggregated to a single point.

As a relative newcomer to the strategic responsibility for child protection in East Lothian ( I am the interim chair of the child protection committee) I can perhaps be afforded the opportunity to ask the “daft laddie” questions about our direction of travel and the associated benefits and risks.  As the person who is ultimately accountable for child protection in East Lothian – along with the Chief Executive – I think it’s legitimate for me to at the very least ensure that I have explored every angle. 

My concern in relation to child protection is that shared services between councils has the potential to lead to confusion over who is actually accountable. As we’ve recently seen from the Haringey tragedy the system cannot cope with any uncertainlty in this regard as it leads to inconsistent and potentially unsafe practice.

If I’m a social worker I need to know where the lines of management reside and to whom I report and share responsibility.  In potentially bringing two different authorities together – with people on different terms and conditions, salary scales, management scales – that potential becomes even more possible.

The other issue rests in lines of governance.  If I’m employed by authority X and yet we provide a shared child protection service with authority Y – which council is responsible in the event of child’s death in authority Y? Is funding responsibility split on per capita terms or in terms of need and use of service?  Which disciplinary process do we use in the event of malpractice?

It’s these apparently simple yet significant issues of accountability and governance which must be resolved before any steps can be taken to attempt to provide shared services on an inter-authority basis.  At the very least we owe it to our vulnerable children and families in our communities that our desire to run a more cost effective service does not compromise their safety or well being.