Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Cracks in the children's agenda

The Integrated Children's System (ICS) - a parallel database to the Information-Sharing Index - has problems before it has even properly begun:

Local authorities will miss en masse the Government's deadline for launching a computer record of children in contact with social services.

Jeanette Pugh, director of the Department for Education and Skills' safeguarding group, made the admission in a letter sent to children's services directors last month.

Despite confirming that the 1 January deadline for implementing the Integrated Children's System remained in place, she conceded that very few local authorities would achieve this.

It should be remembered that local authorities have to fund this system themselves, and also the third member of the trio of 'Every Child Matters' databases - the electronic Common Assessment Framework (eCAF) system.

When the government happily chirrups that they only need to spend £224m, they are referring solely to the Information-Sharing Index. The (substantial) cost of the other two databases come from local authority budgets, and is thus not included in government cost estimates. True, they are making grants available to local authorities towards the cost of ICS and eCAF, but they have already been warned that these fall far short of requirements. Local authorities are expected to perform the feat of implementing the government's policies without putting up council tax, and at a time when they are struggling to fund essential services.

In another example of government dependency on other peoples' pockets to finance their 'flagship' policies, the CE of the National Day Nurseries Association warns that:

...private and voluntary day nurseries supported the principle behind the free early years entitlement but said "they worry an extension will mean further impact upon their already fragile financial position".

Earlier this year, the association warned that private and voluntary nurseries face bankruptcy unless the Government ploughs more cash into the free entitlement or allows them to charge parents a top-up fee.

It's so easy to be grand with someone else's money.


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