Call for clarity on children’s services role after Baby P ruling

Directors of children’s services have called for the government to clarify the future of their role, in light of the Baby P Appeal Court case and many councils’ plans to merge the post with others.

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services has found that as many as a third of directors of children’s services are taking on other responsibilities at a time when the need for ‘clear lines of accountability’ has been confirmed by last week’s court case.

The Appeal Court upheld Sharon Shoesmith’s appeal against her dismissal as Haringey’s director of children’s services after the death of Peter Connelly in 2007.

ADCS president Matt Dunkley said the case ‘highlighted the importance of clear lines of accountability, both locally and nationally, for the protection of vulnerable children’. He added that ADCS figures show that a third of local authorities have, or are considering, merging the children’s services role with other social care responsibilities.

The current Department for Education’s guidance states that the director should hold additional jobs only ‘in exceptional circumstances’ but this is being reviewed. The ADCS says that such service changes should remain exceptional.

Dunkley conceded that some local authorities ‘will feel that there are benefits in further co‐ordination of services to vulnerable adults and children’. But he added: ‘The judgment underlines the importance of clarity in responsibilities for the most vulnerable. What is vitally important is that local authorities ask themselves serious questions about these arrangements. Does this strengthen or dilute accountability for the outcomes achieved by children and young people locally and is this clear to local residents?’

The role of director of children’s services was created after the Laming review into the death of Victoria Climbié, also in Haringey, in 2000. Following this, all councils had to nominate a statutory director of children’s services with responsibility for children’s social care and education.

A spokeswoman for ADCS added: ‘Our view is that [the role] is clear in the current guidance and it needs to remain clear. The question [for the guidance] is whether the current budget cuts are exceptional circumstances – some would say that they are.’

The spokeswoman also called for the revised guidance to address the comments in the original High Court judgment that the relationship between councils and Whitehall in child protection cases needed to be re-examined.

Speaking after the Appeal Court judgment on May 27, Shoesmith said: ‘I am relieved to have won my appeal and for the recognition that I was treated unfairly and unlawfully. Having spent a lifetime protecting, caring and educating children, my sorrow about the death of Peter Connelly in Haringey when I was director is something which will stay with me for the rest of my life. But, as the judges have said, making a “public sacrifice” of an individual will not prevent further tragedies.’