Children's Trusts and Every Child Matters

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The next two years will be critical for the new children's agenda. Bringing together more closely the agencies and individuals who work with children makes good sense, if every child really does matter, but it offers a tremendous challenge to school leaders. How can each school play a central part? What does collaboration with key people in health, social services, the police and voluntary bodies really mean in practice? And should each school now appoint a director of external relations, as it would be called in other contexts, to ensure the best possible results?

Schools have always worked with outside agencies. Sometimes it is inevitable, if a child gets into trouble with the law or a family falls on hard times. When different professionals work together, it can prevent problems. For instance, the early detection of a hearing or mobility problem brings health professionals and educators together.

The Government's new agenda for children is enshrined in the 2004 Children Act and the Every Child Matters guidance attempts to formalise this collaboration through children's trusts, which bring together all local services for children and young people.

The role of children's trusts in this manner is to set policies that will ripple out to every town and village. Looked-after children often get a raw deal; the trusts can ensure that they get a proper education and health care by monitoring what happens to them in each region.

Schools have a massive role in the new children's agenda. In some cases it is a part they play already, while in others practices will no doubt change. Is it obvious, for example, who is the key person inside a school for other agencies to talk to?

From a school point of view there are two important angles: initiating and responding. Schools deal with children every day. Doctors only see them when they are ill. Often a teacher may detect illness, abuse or simply discover a need before anyone else.

Medics and social workers can only go so far, treating and prescribing. Pupil behaviour is a classic example. Many children whose behaviour is poor in school have a significant medical or social problem that the school is powerless to address on its own. Closer liaison with the health and social services may make a difference.

It is important never to loose sight of the 'ordinary child'. If every child really does matter, then those young people who simply get on with their work, and appear on the surface to have no problems are also to be valued.

(TES, 4 November 2005)

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