Thursday, 17 September 2009

Setting it in the context of Every Child Matters

Any work with children these days seems to have to revolve around the five principles of the government initiative "Every Child Matters". The government greenpaper of that name sets out the principles of:

Be healthy
Stay safe
Enjoy and achieve
Make a positive contribution
Economic well being

These five things are the basic outcomes of working with children. To say that in a clearer way, children should learn how to keep physically and mentally healthy, to understand how to avoid dangerous circumstances, to have the ability to enjoy life and achieve their potential, to be able to put something back into society by being a responsible citizen and attaining and retaining enough money to live comfortably. This is a tall order. There are many issues about the list that could be discussed, but for now I am just accepting that they have to be taken into consideration when I study Children's mobile libraries.

The green paper says that the government was spurred into action by the Victoria Climbie investigation, but I suspect that they had similar plans in mind before that happened. I would hate to think that laws are passed as knee jerk reactions to current events, and not a swell considered and thoroughly thought through ideas. There already was a lack of communication between services although it is never certain that even if the police, social services, health service and the school did communicate that Victoria's guardians would still manage to deceive them all. However, the green paper calls for child specialist multi-disciplinary teams to be based at children's centres and put "Children ant the heart of policies". There should be one person heading those teams with the authority to make decisions that will change children's lives.

The government also hope to make children's work well paid and high status with a well paid, flexible workforce. High Calibre people should be attracted into the children's workforce. There should be better, joint training about children and the pooling of budgets. Services to children will enter the realm of commissioning, by the children's commissioner at the head of local children's trusts. Well, this has come about, the children's trusts, and children's commissioners with the green paper becoming law in the 2004 children's act. Local government offices have shuffled around to accommodate the changes but one element is lacking in the act. No mention is made of the contribution of libraries, museums and archives to development of children. The cultural sector has been forgotten.

This has not passed by the Arts council, and Museum and Archives Council. Their report "Creating Better Outcomes for children and Young people by improving the commissioning of Cultural Services" looks at the problem that cultural services find to be part of the children's services commissioning system. The report is based on a study and set of workshops involving children's commissioners or their representatives. Generally they don't think of looking at the cultural services for provision although all of them knew how rich a vein of education and experience can be obtained in a museum, art gallery or library. IT was felt that Cultural services straddle all the definitions of providers, public, private or "Third Sector", and because they are not included or defined in any of those categories they slip through the net. Another difficulty is local authorities put cultural services in different departments, some in education , some in regeneration, there is not a defined place where they should be. The onus is then on the cultural services them selves to tell children's commissioners what they can provide to achieve the five principles of Every Child Matters.

Commissioners are looking for efficiency and effectiveness. They want value for money.The cultural sector has to collect evidence of their impact on the outcomes of the children's plan and share it. Cultural activities are best placed to focus on enjoyment, prevention and early intervention, especially libraries and literacy. There are already partnerships between libraries, sure start and children's centres. The report says organisations need "The ability to demonstrate better out comes and evidence of making a difference is the top priority for organisations wanting to be involved in providing services for children and young people." What is the relevance of this to children's mobile libraries? Commissioners are looking for people who work with children to be CRB checked, trained and skilled at working with children and vulnerable children. Can the library service grantee that they employ people with those skills and provide the training? Can the library service prove that they are delivering value for money to be effective and efficient? This is a good reason for the research.

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