There is no duty more important than ensuring that children’s rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear and that they can grow up in peace. Kofi Annan, the 7th Secretary-General of the United Nations The aim of this paper is to review and critically analyse the Every Child Matters (DfES, 2003) framework as well as to discuss the impact of Every Child Matters agenda on a specific role within an educational setting.
For this purpose, information was gathered through elements of practitioner-based research and observations along with the study and analysis of materials presented in books, research journals and professional publications, so as to evaluate the main aspects of the policy Every Child Matters and identify the issues it has raised for professionals working with young children, and particularly early years practitioners, as well as to propose some strategies that could support those practitioners throughout the process of inevitable changes associated with the introduction of the policy.
In 2003, the Government launched Every Child Matters, a comprehensive programme of reform for children’s services with wide-reaching implications for education, health, social services, voluntary and community organisations, and other agencies. Every Child Matters constituted the Government’s policy response to the findings and recommendations of Lord Laming’s Inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie, the young girl who died as the result of severe physical abuse and neglect in her family. It was published as a Green Paper for consultation on September 2003.
Its proposals have since been further developed in subsequent documents including Every Child Matters; Next Steps and Every Child Matters; Change for Children. Many of the reforms proposed in Every Child Matters—including the establishment of a Children’s Commissioner for England—required amendments to statute. Consequently, a Children Bill was presented to Parliament in March 2004 and subsequently received royal assent on 15 November 2004. The Children Act 2004, as it now is, provides the legal ‘backbone’ for the programme of reform. House of Lords and House of Commons, 2005) The proposals of the Government for reforming children’s services aimed to combine the development of an overall framework for universal children’s services with the need for targeted services to protect vulnerable children. The framework has introduced five outcomes for children’s services as being of key importance during childhood and adult life: being healthy; staying safe; enjoying and achieving; making a positive contribution; achieving economic well-being.
As Benton, Chamberlain and Rutt (2003: 30) point out, Thirty-nine quantitative indicators have been identified relating to these outcomes. For example, one of the key indicators of children being healthy is the infant mortality rate, whereas achieving economic well-being might be partially assessed by the percentage of young people accessing FE and training after completing compulsory schooling. Each of the 150 local authority areas can be assessed using any of these indicators that are available at the local level.
The research (Anning, Cullen and Fleer, 2004; Williams, 2004; Roche and Tucker, 2007) suggests that the introduction of the quantitative indicators along with other expectations of the Every Child Matters agenda has transformed the educational landscape in recent years. The need for effective and coherent multi-agency working has become apparent, and that was not just to ensure that abused children like Victoria Climbie no longer fall through the net, but also to bring together health, social care and education services for collaboration in the interests of all children and with effective provision at all levels.
It is worth to mention that the story behind the development of the Every Child Matters still presents “uncomfortable reading” (Roche and Tucker, 2007: 213) for politicians, children’s service managers, practitioners and academics alike due to the fact that the Every Child Matters framework emerged out of the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of Victoria Climbie as well as many other child abuse inquiries.
The study suggests that Every Child Matters has indicated the emergence of the notions of “a child” and “childhood” as the central subjects in New Labour’s social policy. Recently Gordon Brown declared: “Nothing is more important to the future of our whole country than that, with the best schooling, services and financial support, every child has the chance to develop their potential. ” (Guardian, 2003: 19) Similarly, former Prime Minister Tony Blair stated: “For most parents, our children are everything to us: our hopes, our ambitions, our future. (DfES, 2003: 1) The above claims suggest that children today are no longer seen as incomplete adults not yet able to participate in social life, but as “co-constructors of childhood and society” (Qvortrup, 1994: 14) In the same context, Moss and Petrie (2002: 40), talk about it being “time to welcome children as young citizens, equal stakeholders with adults” and state that “the child has a voice to be listened to” (ibid: 101).
However, it is important to acknowledge that this notion of childhood does not seem to be the only one that shapes the status of children in the sphere of political and economic priorities. Tomplinson (2008) uses an example of Home Office activity linked to the Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO), which is being used to restrain children and make information about them public within their communities. According to Walker (2008: 149), “ten young people a week are being jailed as a result of ASBOs”.
This activity is in clear contrast to the aims of Every Child Matters, one of which is “to minimise the use of custody” (DfES, 2004: 3) Prout (cited in Jones et al, 2008: 29) explains that “public debate swings between children as victims, in need of protection from harm, and children as threat to social order coming from problem families producing unruly and uncontrolled children. ” The study also suggests that Every Child Matters possibly does not put enough emphasis on the importance of children’s participation and respecting of children’s opinions.
Some acknowledgement of those issues is evident in Paragraph 1. 13 of the document, which states some factors that foster children’s resilience against disadvantage: Strong relationships with parents, family and other significant adults Parental interest and involvement in education with clear and high expectations Positive role models Individual characteristics such as an outgoing nature, self-motivation, intelligence Active involvement in family, school and community life Recognition, praise and feeling valued” (DfES, 2003: paragraph 1. 3) Paragraph 5. 47 also mentions “Involving children in developing services” (DfES, 2003: paragraph 5. 47) As Williams (2004) rightly points out, the Every Child Matters framework refers to children’s consultation only twice. The first reference is in setting out its outcomes: “When we consulted with children, young people and families they wanted the Government to set out the aims in terms of a positive vision of what as a society we want to achieve for our children” (DfES, 2003: paragraph 1. 2).
The themes of staying safe and enjoying and achieving are reinforced by the second reference to children’s opinions, when “somewhere safe to go and something to do” is mentioned in relation to the need for recreational activities (DfES, 2003: paragraph 2. 39). The study also revealed that, surprisingly, the theme of “enjoying” is hardly developed in the framework. The section “Enjoying and Achieving” focuses mainly on educational achievement without taking into the consideration the fact that “enjoyment” was the main theme that came from children.
Not only does it give the impression that children’s views are not very important but it also characterizes a rather dreary vision of childhood which is about getting through your exams and keeping out of trouble. This registers more about the processes of becoming an adult rather than the active enjoyment and negotiation of childhood and young personhood with friends and siblings. (Williams, 2004: 412) In addition to criticism towards the lack of emphasis on children’s participation, the study also revealed that there are some points of tension in the Every Child Matters document which reflect a weak framework of values.
Walker (2008) expresses concern regarding the fact that no advice is given in the document to the agencies on how to cooperate together effectively and how to overcome difficulties and barriers, especially when it comes to a clash of different values. Williams (2004) shares this concern, arguing that while the document opens up new possibilities for the way society can transform the lives of children and their parents, it also, at the same time, closes these off due to its failure to be much more explicit about its vision and its values: There is an underestimation f the need for services and policies to underpin both trust and respect, and for strategies that can build consensus around such values. To some extent a case is put in the Introduction to the Every Child Matters: ‘Underpinning this must be not just the resources but an attitude that reflects the value that our society places on children and childhood’. But the values that might support a change in attitude are not spelled out. (ibid: 410)
Nevertheless, despite the mentioned concerns about the conflicting nature of some services and a failure to offer effective legislation in ways that will work for all children and families, it should be noted that the introduction of Every Child Matters and the legislation to support its implementation should be viewed as a staging post (my emphasis) for a government that is on a significant journey of reform for child-related policy and practice (Parton, 2005).
The study suggests that the Every Child Matters agenda raised a number of important issues within the roles of all professional involved in children’s and young people’s services, including teachers and practitioners of early years childcare and educational settings. One of the main issues is related to the introduction of multi-agency approach, which encourages professionals to work in multi-disciplinary teams based in schools and Children’s Centres.
An early manifestation of multidisciplinary approaches to work could be seen in relation to the rapid development of early years provision. The mandatory introduction of Early Years Development and Childcare Partnerships (EYDCP) in every local authority area clearly signalled the intention of the Government to build multi-agency working relationships across the public, private and voluntary sectors that would encompass education, social care and health.
Crucially, the local education authority was given the lead role in bringing together related agencies “to draw up an annual local plan, linked together into the Government’s targets for early education places for 3- and 4-year-olds and the expansion of childcare” (Pugh, 2001: 15). Following the Every Child Matters agenda on integrated multi-agency approach put an obligation on early years practitioners to restructure and refocus their roles. The agenda for safeguarding children based on integrated pproach had to be carefully reviewed from the perspective of all those working with young children. While the traditional protection functions remained the same (looking for signs of abuse, reporting suspicion of abuse, etc. ), the other functions, specifically related to multi-agency involvement, had to be introduced, such as involvement in common assessment process, sharing and analysing information, reviewing outcomes for the children against specific plans.
Within such a perspective the practitioners based at an early years setting have become central figures in developing services for socially excluded children and families and those who are considered to be at risk. The contribution of these practitioners has been viewed as vital, as it is argued that “health, education and social services all have an important role to play in improving and safe-guarding the well-being of vulnerable children and their families” (Abbott et al. , 2005: 230). However, Abbott et al. ibid) also note that there have been difficulties in promoting the vision of multidisciplinary working across organizations, and go further in their criticisms, arguing that there is a “lack of evidence to support the notion that multi-agency working in practice brings about benefits for children and families”. (Abbott et al, 2005: 23) The introduction of multi-agency multi-disciplinary approaches also is having an impact on the practitioners working with older age groups of children. The changes in those practitioners’ job roles are mainly related to the issue of developing extended schools.
According to research conducted by Cummings et al. (2003) specific grounds for the development of extended schools appear to be emerging, however the evaluation of the extended schools revealed that there is no single model of the extended school, and there is considerable variation between the existing models depending on community need, geography and access to funding. The ‘full-service’ school in which services are located on the school site is less common, though many schools are working towards this (ibid). The challenge to those working in extended schools to deliver effective practice seems to be considerable.
The study suggests that, perhaps, the greatest challenge lies in the area of changing the culture of some schools. Smith (2005) supports the idea that multidisciplinary work challenges the isolated position of many schools: “where schools have had to work with other agencies their relative size, statutory nature and high degree of control over what happens within their walls have often made them difficult partners” (ibid: 13). Clearly, these issues have put additional pressure on all staff working in schools in terms of demands of being accountable to both schools and outside agencies.
The study also revealed that those occupying teaching roles in extended schools have been faced with new expectations placed on them. Cajkler et al (cited in Rochea and Tucker, 2007) emphasize that the safeguarding agenda pursued in extended school along with the creation of extended education, leisure, care and health opportunities make teachers to undertake different forms of work. As the “Lead Professional” they find themselves working more closely with families, especially when it comes to improving their access to services that are based on school premises.
At the heart of Every Child Matters agenda lies recognition that all practitioners working with children will require new skills and knowledge to work more within multi-agency systems. This demand instigated another change in the roles performed by the practitioners as the policy agenda also emphasises the reform of training schemes. As Abbott and Hevey (2001: 180) point out, “the development of new and innovatory ways of working will ‘require something more than benign cooperation across existing professions”.
The authors go on to argue that the development of a new children’s workforce has put forward the need for flexibility in approach and a sharing of values and attitudes that had been advocated much earlier in the Rumbold Report (DES, 1990). Indeed, the Every Child Matters agenda implies that all those working with children will require knowledge and skills in six wide areas of expertise, which is referred to as the Common Core of Skills and Knowledge for the children’s workforce.
The areas of expertise include: the development of effective communication skills; an understanding of child development; promoting children’s welfare; supporting transitions; multi-agency working; sharing of information (DfES, 2005). Advocates of the ‘common core’ specifically argue that the roles and responsibilities outlined within the Every Child Matters framework require individuals and groups to develop such a range of skills and knowledge in order to increase their ability to work across professional boundaries (Tucker et al. , 2002).
Along with the demand related to the new training schemes, the Every Child Matters agenda also challenges the practitioners to meet new requirements of OfSTED inspections, which require the practitioners to report the way they are meeting the “five outcomes”. Personal experiences as well as discussions with the professionals show that, in some ways, the delivery of the Every Child Matters agenda has been transformed from a framework of aspiration to one where evidence is apprehensively sought in relation to specific targets against each outcome.
The paper so far has attempted to review and critically analyse the Every Child Matters (DfES, 2003) framework and to discuss the impact of Every Child Matters agenda on a role of practitioners within educational settings. One of the key intentions has been to provide a brief overview of the main issues of the Every Child Matters agenda, an agenda profoundly influenced by a consistent failure to safeguard and protect children and young people and, therefore, promote their welfare.
Specific areas concerned with multi-agency approach, the development of extended schools and workforce training and OfSTED issues have been reviewed to demonstrate the scope and complexity of the changes in the roles of practitioners working with children. The impact of Every Child Matters certainly appears to be influential in terms of the way it has been transforming structures and processes at both the national and local levels.
Every Child Matters has provided a framework for shaping practice, specifically in relation to multi-agency multi-disciplinary approach and the expectations of professionals within educational settings to improve the quality and outcomes of safeguarding children. The study also suggests that, notwithstanding efficiency or inadequacy of specific aspects of the framework, no all-embracing package has been devised, which proposes a perfect solution for safeguarding children and promoting their rights and participation.
It seems unrealistic to expect a selected framework to offer ultimate solutions in the context of educational system in view of the fact that a wide variety of different initiatives and approaches continuously develop to meet new sociological, legislative and educational needs. Today children are seen as “social beings, active in the construction of their own realities and subjectivities and therefore potentially active in the construction and deconstruction of dominant ideologies” (Osler, 1998: 34). However, in the face of changes that ime brings into our society every day we must recognise that there is no objective truth about children; and there is no single, objective description of how we should protect and safeguard them. The process of developing the ideas of childhood is a continuous non-stop practice, which helps us to comprehend the children and their lives as they really are and in this way give the children’s views a central role in our explorations and perceptions.
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