Policies - Accountability -
Hodge should go if responsible
I am delighted that the first opportunity I have to address
an audience in my new role as Minister for Children is a local
government audience. You are our key partners. Working together
we will develop and deliver for children.
I am honoured to have been appointed to this new post. I see
it as an opportunity to build on the progress of recent years;
to make a real difference to the lives of children and their
I stand ready to be judged on what I achieve.
I have spent the last fortnight working with others and in
particular with Paul Boateng who has been leading on these
issues to date, meeting a wide range of professionals and
organisations, as we come to grips with some of the vital
challenges we need to tackle.
And if the dreaded pager does go off in the middle of my speech
I can promise you it won’t be a pre-determined way of
getting me out of your reach. It will be the Whips summoning
me to a pretty important vote in the House, on Foundation
Hospitals which as a member of the Government I want to and
indeed must participate in.
However if I am called away, I promise you I will be back,
not just today, but over the coming weeks, months and hopefully
years as I get on with doing the job the Prime Minister asked
me to do.
Originally this Conference was timed to coincide with the
publication of the Green Paper. I am sorry if there is disappointment
at the delay. I want you to know four things.
First, the fact that the Prime Minister wants to be personally
involved in the launch of the document is a very good thing
and something we should all welcome. It demonstrates his personal
commitment and that of the whole Government to the well-being,
safety, health and opportunities for children. In my 30 years
in public life I think that is an unparalleled commitment.
Second, I want to emphasise that I have come late to the Green
Paper. The driving force in its production has been and remains
Paul Boateng. He has made an enormous personal commitment
to the project which must not be forgotten.
Third, the extra time will enable me, having only just arrived
in post, to talk again to all of you to ensure that I have
a clear view of your priorities and concerns.
Fourth and most importantly, the delay in publication of what
is indeed a ‘Green’ paper will not stop us taking
any necessary immediate action to further the interests of
So later this week I shall be announcing, together with Stephen
Ladyman the first pathfinders who will be exploring ways of
developing joint working through Children’s Trusts.
Also in the next few days I will be launching with Paul Boateng
a document consulting on our ideas on how to spend the £25
million we have for the Parenting Fund to support parents
in their communities.
And two weeks ago I launched together with Charles Clarke
the first Children’s Centres; these are existing facilities
where services are available to children across the professional
divide, from childcare to parenting support, from nursery
education to community health services, demonstrating in practice
this Government’s vision for children and their families.
My post and the new Directorate in the DfES gives all of us
who work with and have a commitment to children, young people
and their families a historic opportunity (and just as an
aside, I hope that I shall be able to use the title of Minister
for Children, Young people and Families very soon, so that
I can properly reflect my job in my job title.)
I think this is the most exiting job in Government. It firmly
demonstrates what I passionately believe to be right. That
every child matters. That every child must have the opportunity
to fulfil their potential. That we can not allow children’s
life chances to be blighted by the age of five because of
where they live or where they come from. That every child
must be properly protected so that they are safe. And that
no child should be denied the chance to make the most of their
lives. These are the values which will underpin our Green
Paper on Children.
These are the values that will drive our reforms and these
are the values on which we will build a coalition of support
so that every child’s potential is fulfilled.
I want to set out what I believe are the five central pillars
of our reform agenda and to then touch on some of these issues.
First we shall put children at the heart of everything we
do. All our services must be planned, developed and delivered
around the needs and wants of children, young people and their
families. We all know that for too long, services have been
broken up in different places. Children have not always been
put first. We can now put this right. The new job and the
new organisation gives us all the opportunity to transform
in a radical and profound way the services we deliver.
We started to do this when we created Sure Start and when
we brought together early years education, health, childcare
and family support under one umbrella with children’s
needs at the centre of everything. In 1998 this was seen as
a revolution in children’s services. In 2003 it is a
model which is envied around the world.
Our second pillar of reform is to start early. In the past
Britain lagged behind other countries in our investment in
early years. We are changing that. With nearly 500 Sure Start
centres, with nursery education available for all 4 year olds
and most 3 year olds, with the development of publicly funded
childcare services up and down the country we are demonstrating
by what we have done, the importance of the early years. We
know that children’s life chances are determined by
what happens in the first years of their lives. If we are
to ensure opportunity for all we must give children the very
best start at the beginning of their lives.
But our third pillar is to recognise that children, young
people and their families need support throughout the time
in which they grow up and develop. Their needs will change
as they move through different ages and different stages.
So we will be building on what we have already done with the
Children’s Fund, the Connexions Service, the introduction
of Education Maintenance Allowances and other programmes.
We shall plan and deliver a range of services which respond
to individual needs and which offer different help at different
Our fourth pillar is to ensure that running through all our
policies and all our programmes there is a commitment and
determination to protect children at risk and to support children
with particular needs. By making sure that keeping children
safe is at the heart of all we do we shall provide better
support and greater certainty for those children who are at
risk of harm and injury. We are dealing with complex issues
and there are no easy answers. But in the work we do we must
strive to minimise risk and maximise opportunity.
And our final fifth pillar is to strengthen and develop services
which support parents and families in their most important
job of bringing up their children. Parents want the best for
their children. Our job is to provide the right support at
the right time in the right way. This is in part about building
new services, like Sure Start giving help to mums and dads
in the very first days of their children’s lives. And
it’s about bringing services together under one roof
in the Sure Start centre, the Children’s centre, the
Extended School centre. Too many parents get lost in the system;
there are too many hoops through which they are forced to
climb, too much bureaucracy which grinds them down. Our job
is to change that and to create a new settlement for children
and their families which will transform their lives.
All of you, whether you come from a health, education, social
services or adult community services background have skills,
knowledge and expertise which is both relevant and important.
What we all need to do is to grasp and value that individual
professional expertise, but break down the traditional professional
silos which have inhibited professionals from talking to each
other and working together.
That is not just absolutely vital to protect children at risk
as we learn time and time again from the deaths of children
and most recently from Lord Laming’s Inquiry into the
tragic death of Victoria Climbie.
It is equally important for all our children if we are to
enable them to develop their full potential and grow up as
happy, healthy and well-rounded individuals with a positive
contribution to make to society.
Of course, there is already plenty of good practice that has
developed on the ground, across the country, much of it the
result of imagination and commitment from people in local
There is also the experience we are gaining from some of the
Let me first focus again on Sure Start which I know so well
because I was Minister for Early Years when we were developing
Sure Start is now widely acknowledged as being an innovative
and effective intervention. By bringing together in one place
all the services which impinge on a child’s life in
their early years, from the family support kicking in before
the child is born, to the important contribution made by health
visitors and organisations like Home Start in the very first
days of the child’s life; from the earlier identification
of a child’s special needs in programmes like the neonatal
screening programmes for hearing to the early education offered
by teachers often working on children’s cognitive development
in integrated settings from a very early age; from quality
childcare to programmes supporting parents; from developing
new networks with other mums and dads to providing opportunities
for work, particularly for lone parents to create a route
for them out of poverty, bringing all this together in one
programme means that we are able to create a whole which is
much stronger than the sum of its parts. We are able to make
a real difference on the ground to children’s life chances.
And for the most vulnerable, we are better able to prevent
children being at risk.
However the challenges remain huge. First we have to see how
we can practically mainstream into all our programmes what
we have learnt works in the targeted programmes. The opportunities
we are developing for some children must be available for
all children. That is partly about resources but it is also
about all of us changing the way we work and changing the
way we use existing resources.
Secondly we know from research conducted in America around
the Head Start programme that early interventions only work
if they are of high quality and if they are sustained throughout
a child’s life.
And thirdly we know that the cultural changes demanded of
professionals to work in these new ways is difficult and challenging.
So we must provide proper and continuous support and training
to embed the new ways of working in the culture of the workplace.
We must value the different strengths of different professional
backgrounds, but recognise the importance of integrated multi-agency
The Government has now decided to locate a whole range of
services within the Department for Education and Skills (DfES).
I think bringing these services together in the Education
department is of itself an important statement. Education
is the universal service which touches every child, so what
we are saying is that we are constructing an entitlement for
all our children and young people, a universal entitlement,
into which we shall place the essential targeted support that
some children will need, support because they are at risk
in their home, because they have a special need or a disability,
because they are truanting or disengaged from education and
training or – when they are older – work, because
they have developed anti-social patterns of behaviour, be
it bullying or creating disruption and chaos on the estates
or in the communities in which they reside, or because they
have offended and have broken the law.
Providing these targeted services within a universal context
is in my view the best way of minimizing the need for targeted
intervention and targeted support. It is about preventing
the need for intervention whilst still ensuring strong and
appropriate intervention where necessary.
So in the new directorate in the DfES, we shall bring together
many existing services; all the early years services which
come under the Sure Start umbrella, the Sure Start projects,
the childcare programme, the early education responsibilities
and the Children’s Centres.
We shall incorporate all the Special Educational Needs Division,
the work on Extended Schools, all the study support programmes,
the Children’s Fund programmes, the Connexions Service
and the Youth Service.
We are bringing over into the DfES the unit in the Home Office
that has responsibility for Family Policy and all the Government
programmes which aim to support families. They will be brought
under one roof in our directorate – including the new
Parenting Fund - which gave us new resources to strengthen
the voluntary sector support for families in the last Spending
All the children’s social services programmes will be
incorporated into the directorate as will the Teenage Pregnancy
programme and unit which previously sat in the Department
And many of the family support functions which previously
resided in the Lord Chancellor’s Department will also
be integrated into the new directorate. So responsibility
for the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service
(CAFCASS) and the court welfare services as well as policy
responsibility for family law will come into the directorate.
This reorganisation is a massive undertaking and will have
huge implications. Let me say two or three things about that.
First this is NOT a takeover by the DfES. This is a genuine
determination to break down unhelpful professional boundaries
to create a better integrated service which values each and
every individual professional contribution.
So for instance, one of my early tasks will be to raise the
status of social work, to see how we can provide better routes
and opportunities into the profession, to provide an improved
professional training and development offer which allows people
from different backgrounds to grow their knowledge and expertise.
And to grow the workforce so that children are not left at
risk of abuse because we haven’t got enough people to
But we also want these professionals to work more closely
with other professionals who touch children and young people’s
lives. Only when we get better at working together across
the boundaries can we be certain that we are making every
effort to prevent tragedies like the death of Victoria Climbie
Of course we can never say we will always prevent the death
of an innocent child, but we must act and learn from what
so many inquiries have told us, that sharing information and
working together is critical to ensuring that our children
That is a key objective of the Government’s reorganisation
proposals. Much of this will be fleshed out in the Green Paper,
but the direction of travel is clear.
The reorganisation will have a profound effect on the DfES
itself. The presence of this new directorate will impact hugely
on the way the DfES works and I know that Charles Clarke when
he argued that we should be responsible for these integrated
children’s services, was very clear about the benefit
this would bring to all children, young people and their families.
I am also very conscious of the fact that the reorganisation
only affects some services and some people. We will still
have boundaries across which we will need to work. For instance,
the whole range of community health services, from midwives
to health visitors to consultant paediatricians to children’s
mental health services will remain with the Department of
Health. Similarly the Youth Justice Boards and the Youth Offending
Teams will remain with the Home Office.
Ensuring we join these services at national as well as local
level is essential. And already in my first two weeks in the
job Stephen Ladyman at the Department of Health and I have
set up joint working arrangements so that we both own the
National Standards that are being developed around children’s
health services. And I hope that some of the proposals in
the Green Paper will further support the integrated working
However the creation of a Minister for Children opens opportunities
beyond the boundaries of the departmental reorganisation.
It enables me to champion children’s issues across Government
in a clear and focussed way. On a whole range of public service
issues and policies my officials and I will be able to bring
the children’s perspective to bear on the debate across
Of course this is not a substitute for a direct voice for
children and we are considering how to give effect to this
voice in the proposals we are including in the Green Paper.
But I would find it inconceivable to do my job without having
direct access to and knowledge of children and young people’s
views. The value system which underpins the Government’s
approach to public service reform is predicated on our belief
that we must construct services which reflect the needs and
priorities of the user, not the producer and where the emphasis
is on the outcomes achieved, rather than the inputs provided.
So building services which listen, hear and understand the
views of children and young people is central to what we are
The challenges we will face are huge. Will we have sufficient
resources? How can we use what we have to best effect? How
do we build a new culture in the workplace where professional
competition and distrust is replaced by professional collaboration
and mutual respect? How do we best organise the new world
so that within a universal offer for all children and young
people we make sure that we provide a safe environment and
protect all the children at risk?
And we will always have some difficult judgements to make.
How do we balance the privacy to which all families are entitled
with our over-riding duty to protect children? How do we ensure
we provide good and appropriate support for children and families
without being seen as patronising and overbearing? How do
we promote the interests of an individual child whilst at
the same time protecting and promoting the interests of all
The challenges are tough. But the opportunity is unparalleled.
With my new job, our new organisation and our proposals in
the forthcoming Green Paper we have the most wonderful opportunity
to make a real difference in the lives of children.
Let’s seize that opportunity with all the energy and
commitment we have and use it to transform the future. I know
that’s what I intend to do. I hope you will work with
me too in this endeavour.