Page last updated at 08:32 GMT, Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Children's trusts 'not effective'

Victoria Climbie
Victoria was the victim of one of Britain's worst child abuse cases

The children's trusts created by the government after the death of Victoria Climbie have made little difference to children's services, a report says.

The trusts, in England, were one of the recommendations made by an inquiry into the eight-year-old's death in 2003.

But the Audit Commission says they often lack clear direction and have made slow progress. The government says the review is out-of-date.

Victoria was murdered in 2000 by her great-aunt and the woman's partner.

Her body was riddled with 128 injuries when she died.

She had suffered months of abuse and had been seen by dozens of social workers, nurses, doctors and police officers, but they failed to pick up on the abuse.

Her death prompted a complete rethink about looking after vulnerable children.

Focus on 'structures'

Lord Laming, who chaired the inquiry into her death, found agencies were passing the buck and not communicating.

As a result, the government decided local areas in England should have children's trusts, bringing together education, social services, youth services and other agencies under a single director.

Five years after the Laming Inquiry, there is little evidence that children's trusts have improved outcomes for children
Audit Commission
The Audit Commission study is the first independent assessment of the trusts since they were formally created by the Children Act 2004.

The report found progress was "less than was anticipated" for the impact of children's trusts on children's services, including child protection.

It said there was "little evidence of better outcomes for children and young people" and too much time was being spent on "structures and process" at the expense of improving the lives of children.

But it reported that "on the ground, professionals are working together, often through informal arrangements outside the trust framework".

The commission did not call for the trusts to be scrapped, saying they were still "bedding down".

But it said children and young people should have more say in how services are designed.

Greater involvement with GPs and schools was another of its recommendations.

'Changes since'

Children's Minister Beverley Hughes said she was "disappointed" in the commission's handling of the review.

Professionals are still not consistently talking to colleagues in other sectors
Vijay Patel, NSPCC

"Not only are the headline messages a misrepresentation of what their own report as a whole says, but it is based on fieldwork which is now almost a year old," she said.

"Significant changes have taken place since then, not least the publication of the Children's Plan, which sets out very clearly our high ambitions for children and the strength and role of children's trusts in delivering them."

The government was preparing new guidance on the operation of children's trusts, she added.

Not only are the headline messages a misrepresentation of what their own report as a whole says, but it is based on fieldwork which is now almost a year old
Children's Minister Beverley Hughes
NSPCC policy officer Vijay Patel said the report made "some important points", such as the recommendation for closer links with schools.

He said professionals were still not consistently talking to colleagues in other sectors, and called for further investment.

Janet Davies, executive director of the Royal College of Nursing, said the report showed there had been "insufficient investment" in the training of nurses and other professionals.

"This has created a protection postcode lottery where safeguarding services vary significantly across the country," she said.

Khyra's death

In May, Victoria Climbie's mother spoke out about the apparent failure of institutions to learn lessons from the case.

Berthe Climbie said the deaths of other children in similar circumstances since Lord Laming's report showed nothing had changed.

Her comments followed the case of Khyra Ishaq, a seven-year-old who apparently starved to death in Birmingham.

Her mother and stepfather have been charged with her murder, and an inquiry into her death has been launched by social services.

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