The Every Child Matters reform agenda is the most significant development in children’s services in living memory. The legislation, which envisages sweeping changes to the delivery of services at the local level, introduces new structures, roles and responsibilities.
The legislation is also remarkable for the support that it has generated among professionals themselves, many of whom support the move towards greater integration between services. But the danger for Every Child Matters lies in the day-to-day difficulties of making it work on the ground.
In this situation, there arises a leadership imperative: to change the culture of organisations. This must go beyond simply adjusting structures of authority, accountability and control.
It falls to leaders to find strategies that deal with risk aversion, that understand that resistance to change can be a reflection of professionalism, and that recognise that disagreement between professionals can actually serve children’s interests under the right circumstances.
Further, leaders must be prepared to give power away on some occasions, taking opportunities to involve young people in local governance, and to bring professionals together to plan the design and delivery of local services.
Finally, national policy can also play its part in helping this change in culture take place, by creating more flexible and bespoke systems of accountability and support for leaders at a local level