Review of ‘Shaping Children’s Services’ by Chris Hanvey (Oxford: Routledge, 2019)

Shaping Children's Services
Shaping Children’s Services, by Chris Hanvey

This is such a thoughtful, insightful, balanced, well-informed and seminal book that this review will be in the form of a conversational response.  My review copy is so heavily annotated that it is obvious that Chris Hanvey has challenged and stimulated my thinking and imagination considerably.

In 128 pages, which include an appendix and index, the author surveys the scene of children’s services (mostly in England, but with reference to the rest of the UK and Europe), concluding with a recommendation as to how they might be re-shaped fundamentally in order to build a “first-class integrated child-care service that fully recognises the role of all the professions and fully engages them in looking holistically at the needs of children and young people” (page 119).

The prose is clear and unobtrusive, but with some fine touches when Hanvey draws from literature or history.  A good example is the stunning quote on page 114 by Helen Seaford, which I came across for the first time in this book:  “The child moves through Whitehall growing and shrinking like Alice: in the Department of Health she is a small potential victim, at the Treasury and Department of Education a growing but silent unit of investment, but at the Home Office a huge and threatening yob.” Could anyone have put it better, I wonder?  It is to the author’s credit that he has found it, and allows it to speak for itself.

The analysis is set in historical context starting for the most part with the 1899-1902 Boer War and Charles Booth’s and Seebohm Rowntree’s studies on poverty and nutrition.  Key points in the story are the 1942 Beveridge Report, the 1944  Education Act, the establishment of the NHS in 1948, and the 1948 Children Act. There is a useful summary of more recent major changes, including those in health, education and juvenile justice.

The descriptions of interventions and initiatives between 1997 and the present day include the Troubled Families Programme, the Social Exclusion Unit, Every Child Matters, Working Together to Safeguard Children, the CANparent scheme, Putting Children First, Adoption: a New Approach, CAMHS, Education Action Zones,  Connexions, and the Youth Justice Board.  (They came so fast that it is useful to have an aide-memoire!) Examples of initiatives in integration that are discussed in a little more detail are Total Place, Extended Schools, the Children’s Fund, Children’s Centres and Sure Start.

Chris HanveyBy the end of chapter two Hanvey has concluded that one of the endemic problems in England (and the UK) is short-termism, “blown by the winds of expediency and political preference” (page 46). It is also clear because of the history, that much intervention is a “knee-jerk” reaction (page 49) to crises, notably tragic deaths of children (such as Maria Colwell or Victoria Climbie) where the system has failed. He suggests that it needs at least 20 years before a fundamental change can be effectively implemented and evaluated (page 46).

When the quality of childhood and child care in the UK is assessed alongside European and UNICEF data, in chapter 4, the conclusion is salutary:  “could do better” might be a simple way of putting it.

Chapter 5 is a brave attempt to find a way of analysing what is spent on looking after children (across the full spectrum of services and departments) in the UK.  Readers will be grateful to the author for providing the workings out that lead to his conclusion:  “we do not know with any accuracy what we are collectively spending on children” (page 75).

In chapter 6 there is a focus on the roles to the voluntary and private sectors in providing services for children.   This charts a massive shift in children’s residential homes, for example.  Before 1948 the voluntary sector had been a major provider; after this they were increasingly run by Local Authorities.  By 2016, 66% were run by private sector and private equity firms.  Any attempt at integrated services for children must find ways of including the hugely diverse voluntary sector (dominated by national organisations such as Barnardos and Action for Children), the private sector, local and central government.

The case for integration is made in chapter 7, and it is difficult to imagine anyone disagreeing with the concept in general, however much they might question specific elements of it.  Examples given include Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hubs (MASH), the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, and a very useful list of international initiatives (pages 97-99).  The principles underlying such integration that Hanvey finds particularly helpful are those of the British Association of Community Child Health (BACCH), and these are spelt out on page 100.

The ground is thus prepared for the author’s recommended way forward, given in a chapter entitled “Building a World Class Children’s Service” (pages 103-113).  It revolves around the creation of local Children’s Services Teams (CSTs).  These have a comprehensive and shared referral and assessment process, pooled budgets, a common database, a triage system, and a “Named Person” who is given the “lead professional role”.  The CST would be responsible to a Local Management Board. Eight case studies provide examples of how such teams would operate.

Hanvey identifies three major challenges that need to be overcome if such a scheme is to become a reality: avoiding more disruptive short-term re-organisations, and taking the time to develop a shared culture; political consensus, such as there was in welfare (1942), education (1944) and health (1946); and a vision that involves lifting eyes beyond narrow domestic and professional agendas.

On reflection it is remarkable that Chris Hanvey has managed to squeeze so much information and analysis into such a slim tome.  I can pay no higher tribute than to remark that several times his writing reminded me of the clarity, fairness, breadth of knowledge and wisdom of the late Professors Roy Parker, and Jean Packman.  Strange that they, like Chris, had roots in Devon!  But like them, Chris’s lifelong experience in children’s work and services, gives him a wealth of insights drawn from a range of perspectives from the local to the, regional, national and international, as well as across professional boundaries such as education, social work and health.  He is in a unique position to describe and assess things as he has done, and we owe him a debt of gratitude.  And it is to Routledge’s credit that they have seen fit to amplify his voice.

Those seeking a conventional review can turn off at this point, because here is where I seek to engage in conversation with Chris and hopefully other professionals for whom the welfare of children is a paramount concern.  I do so as one who finds that this book provides a historical backcloth to much of my life alongside children.  Just to identify how much, here are a few strands and episodes. I studied the history of residential child care in the UK, with an analysis of the period of the Children’s Departments in Scotland and England between 1948 and 1968, visiting and staying in 20 homes in Hull and Edinburgh between 1969 and 1971.  I was a trainee social worker in the newly-formed Edinburgh Social Work Department, based on the housing scheme in West Pilton, before becoming a community development officer with the Scottish Council of Social Service.  From 1975 Mill Grove has been my home, and the crucible of my life, work and study.  In passing I recall that one of my books about Mill Grove, A Place for Us, had a preface by the Rt. Hon. Patrick Jenkin who was soon to become Secretary of State for Social Services.  It helped me to see that living at Mill Grove between 1947 and the present provided a rather unusual window on children’s needs and children’s services.   Two of those who helped me to look more intelligently through this window were trustees, Bob Holman and Derek Spicer.

I was also a member of the Barclay Committee charged with re-thinking social workers’ roles and tasks.  My PhD was done in India focussing on a radical philosophy of childhood, gender, care and education as represented by the life and work of Pandita Ramabai (1858-1922).  I became involved with the Social Care Association, the National Council of Voluntary Child Care Organisations, a number of bodies in the London Borough of Redbridge, and also Frontier Youth Trust. Since 1978 I have lectured in Sociology and Child Development.  And all the time I needed to write in order to try to make some sense of the lives of the children and families we were seeking to understand and help, and to conceive of better ways of responding singly and in partnership with others.  One role was on behalf of NCVCCO when I edited three volumes of essays and articles including some by senior civil servants as well as representatives of the diverse voluntary sector:  Children and Social Exclusion, The Changing Face of Child Care, Re-Framing Children’s Services, respectively. I apologise for the length of this background, but it all seems relevant to what follows.  Chris Hanvey has been writing about something that matters hugely to me, and I hope part of this at least helps to explain why.

So what would I like to say to Chris and to others gathering around an imaginary table having read this seminal book?  A starting point might be that we have a fundamental problem in England (and to a lesser extent in the rest of the UK) in that we do not have any time or place for philosophy.  This is far from an arcane or academic point in relation to this book, because a coherent political, professional, and moral case for integrated children’s services requires an agreed understanding of childhood, the village it takes to raise a child, the purpose of education, the limits and boundaries of the market, state services, familial care, the ethics of medicine and much, much more.  And the fact is that we will never agree on this because that it not the way we see or do things.  Some pride themselves on our educational system for example, perhaps with Oxbridge in mind, but the truth is that universal education in England has always been pragmatic in nature and practice.  We have little or no time for the likes of Fröbel, Montessori, Pestalozzi, Illich, and Freire.  And who but a small band are inspired by therapeutic, holistic communities such as Mulberry Bush, Caldecott, and Cotswold?

Given this it is no surprise that the landscape of children’s services is littered with short-term initiatives, and changing guidance targets and standards.  There has to be something to fill the moral, ethical and philosophical void in which we operate.  To be busy gives as the reassurance that we are at least doing something which we hope might be worthwhile, while refusing to acknowledge the futility of spending money and energy on that which we will never (remotely) be able to assess and evaluate.

A second line of discussion might be to do with timescales.  Patrick Jenkin, a child of his time, referred in his foreword to a “cycle of deprivation”.  The term is no longer in use as far as I know, and comes with much problematical political baggage.  But when we use terms like “early intervention” referring to the age of a child, should we not also acknowledge that this is likely to be very late intervention in the life of the child’s family?  All the evidence seems to suggest that poverty and poor parenting have inter-generational family, class, communal and cultural roots.  Put at its crispest, an early intervention in the life of a child at risk, is likely to be a late, possibly re-intervention in the life of the child’s parent or parents.  For this reason among others I would suggest a forty year timescale for assessment and evaluation of the impact and effect of strategies, well aware of the immense challenges that this poses, but encouraged by the NCB study, Born to Fail?

Then I would like to begin to explore some of the familial, communal, religious resources (some have talked of social capital) that make up what we might think of as the informal voluntary sector.  That is the vast pool of people, acts of unremembered kindness, and networks of relationships that go to make up the village that it takes to raise a child (apart from the formal state, local authority, private and voluntary organisations).  In trying to describe and analyse provision for children this represents a massive challenge, and yet we risk skewing the conclusions if we ignore it on the grounds that it is so difficult to calculate.  A practical implication of this will follow.

Next comes an observation of changes that are common among professions and professionals.  One of these is the way in which practice and meetings have become dominated by targets, forms, tick-boxes, pieces of work, and time-limited interventions.  This has been at the expense of what used to be called in one profession, “person-centred social work”, but which can be applied across the board.  Face to face contacts which develop into relationships have been replaced by bureaucratically-influenced processes and practice.  This has negative implications for everyone (professionals and clients alike) but in the case of children, it is potentially very damaging.  Young children are looking for attuned adults and faces.  We all know that.

With this in mind, I wonder if we ought to think harder about the “Named Person”, both in terms of role, and also identity.  The description that Bob Holman used in his landmark work in Bath and then Glasgow, was that of a “resourceful friend”, which sums it up for me.  Each child needs a trusted adult who will be there for them long term.  Given the likely career paths of professionals, we need to think very carefully of those who might fulfil this role, including those in the extended family and community, as well as in faith communities, sports clubs and groups, alongside professionals who are able and willing to give such a commitment.  It is a thorny pint, but if we aspire to a world-class service then it needs to be grasped.

Part of the issue surrounding the identity of a Named Person (resourceful friend) is the matter of choice.  Many of the recent developments in say health and education (both significantly universal, not specialist  services) centre on the issue of choice and purchasing.  But the reality of children’s services for the poor and at risk children and families is that there is little or no choice.  Which is why being able to choose who you put your trust in for your well-being is so crucial.  Can we defend giving child and family no choice?  If so, how and why?

With still more fermenting in my brain just now as a result of reading this book, I will bring the imaginary conversation to a close with a comment about locality and place.  I mentioned being part of the Barclay Committee, but I was in fact one of three members who produced a minority report entitled “A case for neighbourhood-based social work and social services”.  Unsurprisingly I read Chris Hanvey’s book through this lens.  After all the whole of my working life have been spent based in one residential community and neighbourhood, and those whom I have admired, like Bob Holman, Janusz Korzcak, Pandita Ramabai, and  Jean Vanier, have done the same.

The word “localism” is used in the book (for example, pages 104-5) and the location of CSTs is carefully considered (pages 106-7).  But we need to take immense care at this point.  Talk of integrated services and “one door” must not disguise the problem from the child and family’s point of view.  It needs to be a door that they can get to, that they wish to enter, and crucially, where they receive a welcome.  When Social Services (Social Work) Departments replaced Children’s Departments they were, in organisational terms, unified organisations, but for many children and families there was no such one door.

It so happens that since 1899 hundreds and children and families have entered the door of Mill Grove, and also professionals in health, education, social work among others.  Long before Sure Start and Children’s Centres, we functioned effectively as just such a thing.  Communication between generations is normal (not an exciting new venture).  We are trusted by many neighbours as resourceful friends.  Assuming we are not alone, where do such places figure in the vision of integrated children’s services, I wonder? And would there be a place for the likes of Bob Holman?

Keith J. White

You can buy the book through Amazon Prime or direct from the publisher


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