Children's trusts could be created in reform package

By Terri Judd
Friday 27 December 2013 05:11
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Radical reform of children's services is being planned following the Victoria Climbié case which exposed widespread failings by local authority social workers.

The Government is planning to set up Children's Trusts with responsibility for all aspects of child care and which could potentially be handed over to private sector teams.

The move pre-empts a report by Lord Laming, the chairman of the inquiry into the torture and murder of Victoria, which he promised would provide a "turning point" for child protection in this country.

Victoria, who was eight when she died, was imprisoned, beaten and starved for months before being killed by her father's aunt and her partner. Four local authorities, two police teams and two hospitals were involved in the case but failed to save her.

The investigation into the death exposed widespread failings in child care services, exacerbated by a lack of communication between the various agencies which had seen Victoria separately. Neil Garnham QC, counsel to the inquiry, revealed they missed at least 12 opportunities to stop the abuse.

The new trusts, which will be piloted next year, will take responsibility for the health, social care and education of children, dealing with everything from abuse to truancy.

"I think we need to reform the system that delivers children's services to prevent children like Victoria dropping down gaps between different agencies," said Jacqui Smith, the Health minister.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health added: "The idea is that health, social services and education would be put into one place, which would control all aspects of child care but it is at an early planning stage." The planned trusts will take over local responsibility for areas including family support, child protection, youngsters in care, paediatrics, speech and language therapy, disability, exclusions from school and early development.

At the moment the plan is to pilot such units within local authorities and under the control of elected councillors. However, there has been pressure in the Cabinet to cut all links with councils and create new management teams from the private sector to handle child welfare.

The Department of Health said yesterday that reports that the Government intended to hand control to "public interest countries" – independent bodies with the power to raise private finance – were "extremely speculative".

Victoria died in February 2000 after being tortured by her great aunt, Marie Therese Kouao, and her lover, Carl Manning. Both are serving life for Victoria's murder.

The Laming report is expected to be delivered to the Government in the autumn. Lord Laming, a former chief inspector of the Social Services Inspectorate, is expected to call for comprehensive changes to the structure of child protection in the UK.

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