Children Across the Justice Systems



Thanks to our regular contributor Looked After Child for her thought provoking comment about policies and who pays, following the President’s recent speech. Fragmentation of services is causing increasing harm and inefficiency. Whatever your view of the market, don’t we still need good governance?

This post takes as its starting point Sir James Mumby, President of the Family Division’s speech on 30 October 2017:- Children Across the Justice Systems, The 2017 Parmoor Lecture

Sir James discusses seven serious problems preventing the courts working effectively to make the best decisions possible for children when called upon to do so. This post focuses on the fifth identified problem – The division of responsibilities across Whitehall between different Departments and Ministers in matters affecting families and children

Thanks to the Howard League for Penal Reform for organising this lecture series as part of its wide ranging, essential work with and for children in the Secure Estate.

Magic Money Tree

There is no ‘magic money tree’ apparently. Even with my very superficial acquaintance with economics I’m not sure economics students would entirely agree with that statement (Remember Quantitative Easing and Keynesian economics?) but let’s take it at face value.

There is no magic money tree so we have to figure out how to use the resources we have to best effect. Our government and the Treasury seems to think this entails Government Departments giving ever smaller, sometimes one-off, pots of money to agencies and organisations with the mantra ‘Spend it well and show how spending this money will save money in other areas that our Department has responsibility for’.

No one is really sure who should be prioritised when it comes to spending money – should it be the most in-need or the most powerful or the most important to policymakers if they are to retain their policy-making powers or…?

There are a number of advantages and disadvantages of this approach.

What are the advantages of this approach to policymakers?

We end up with a small government with a policy-making role in the main. Agencies can go out to a market of ‘providers’ with their pot of money and buy in the services they need showing ‘best value’. They compete with each other for services and using various mechanisms the Government creates the environment where the market is encouraged to flourish. People with money can buy in their own services if they choose to so reducing the burden on the taxpayer.

Policymakers can make policy without having responsibility for delivery so policy can in itself ‘have a kind face’. Charities can be included as ‘suppliers of services’ so the market has as wide a supplier base as possible. Peer-to-peer learning can be encouraged as can self-certification so we need few expensive ‘compliance checkers’ – Health and Safety Officers, Building Control Officers, School Inspectors etc. Where these are needed then whoever has need of the service should pay so where possible even compliance checking contracts can be marketed and have revenue generating potential.


What are the disadvantages of this approach to everyone?

I have a son with vulnerabilities so it matters to me more than most that because of these policies people in need are in many cases being left behind often in dreadful circumstances. The vulnerable including children are also often painted as the agents of their own misfortunes to justify the inhumanity that those that need services are often treated with. Many have rights, enshrined from a kinder age, that are seen as optional extras or something that unfunded charities, such as the Howard League for Penal Reform, should meet.

Good health of the market becomes the driver for policy. Regulation is seen as a ‘drag on the market’, just ‘red tape’. The Grenfell Tower fire is likely to show where this can ultimately lead – hollowed out enforcement services for out-of-date regulations. Self-certification that ticked a box but did’ent meet a need. It is also worth pointing out that 18- year old building apprentices would still be shoveling asbestos if left to the construction industry to figure out what it should be doing in response to the extreme dangers posed by asbestos fibres. The market clearly needs direction and regulation and government has a role beyond that of ensuring the health of the market. It has a role in ensuring the health of the people and of communities. It has a role in ensuring we live in a just and fair society.

There are also issues of sustainability. As a country we own less year-on-year in terms of our national assets and we often have no real idea of who is actually carrying out contracted-out services, how well they are trained, what they are doing at a ‘fine grain level’ and what the implications are for our ‘tax take’ or the loss to individual communities in terms of employment security and nett wealth of individuals within those communities. Surely this cannot be sustainable long term?

There is also a danger of disconnect of policymakers from policy delivery. ‘Teflon coated’ policymakers may point to one or two good things happening somewhere in their particular area of influence and then say ‘our policy is working’ even though it is clear that there is systemic failures of whatever kind – around fragmentation, resources being used to address complexity rather than meeting need, underfunding, gaps in provision, inadequate data collection, analysis and reporting as just some examples. At what point does this become unethical misdirection, eroding belief in Government itself?

Fragmentation is highly inefficient if not unworkable. Take one example – our son’s school is in one LA, his doctor another, we live in a third. He needed specialist medical support in a fourth, was discharged from the hospital to a fifth so who is responsible for the package of social care support that he needs, particularly if our LA was not even aware that he had difficulties? If that were not crazy enough geographic footprints for LAs do not match geographic footprints for clinical commissioning groups for healthcare.

Footprints for specialist services may be at semi-regional level, footprints for other services at a local level. All are so busy looking after their own budgets that there is a disconnect between “making sure you can justify spending the money from this budget” with “what needs to happen to provide an effective service?” It is hard to explain how byzantine this is to negotiate on the ground and no-one seems to be logging un-met need just tightening the criteria to access their service. We are encouraged to accept injustice on the grounds of pragmatism. ”There is no magic money tree”.

I don’t believe in markets in the ways policymakers seem to. You can have any number of people employed trying to procure services but if you have no service providers there is no service but there is still a cost. Suppliers cherry pick lucrative work and have no values other than to make profit. I have no idea why anyone would think it could be otherwise when dealing in a marketplace.


What needs to change?

The service landscape resembles nothing as much as the parish council system of the 1840’s before the great reforms of public health and services that gathered momentum in the 1950’s. I for one never signed up for this.

If indeed there is no magic money tree then we need consensus on how we prioritise where we spend money. The views of people who have need of services should be central to that debate. Should we be locking children up if they are less safe in our prisons than in their community? Should we be taking children into Care when we are now seeing grandmothers who were in Care lose their grandchildren to the Care system and we don’t know why? What kind of society are we? Do we choose to blame, punish or help those who need services? If we help, do we only do so in a punitive way to deter people from asking for help? How much help is enough and how should that help be provided? Policymakers may not like some of the answers to these questions but they really have to engage – that is the job of Government.

Government Departments need to change from being provider focussed to service user led.

If you need a school or children’s services’ input into your (child’s) care, the Department for Education currently has responsibility for putting in place polices for delivery of education and for children’s social care. They do not control all policies relating to children including when children get health support or if they go to prison. The policies that apply and costs associated come from different Department’s budgets. There are bizarre situations where the Department for Culture, Media and Sport for example have responsibility for Drug and Alcohol courts (possibly because gaming can lead to addiction???).

The territorial nature of Departmental remits matters to us all because we need our services to work seamlessly. Instead Departments each look to different experts to give direction on policy, have different initiatives that run over different timescales, different cultures (imagine how co-production of services now widely promoted by the Department of Health would impact the Care system?) and each work largely in silos.

I think Departments might be better defined by user groups – Department for Families, Department for the Third Age etc so that each department knows who they are delivering services for and produce coordinated policy for their user group. As an example a new Department for Families could have as its focus health, education, care and justice for children/young people, parenting support where needed, poverty reduction, secure housing for families.


What happens if we keep going as we are?

It isn’t working on so many levels that many people just want a ‘reset button’. Brexit is a symptom of this.

Talk about ‘the magic money tree’ should not blind people to the fact that we need good government. It is essential particularly when money is tight. Bad government has consequences for us all and these consequences are sometimes neither foreseeable nor controllable. Good governance is in all our interests.

32 thoughts on “Children Across the Justice Systems

    1. looked_after_child

      freely without interference

      The ‘why of the love affair of policymakers with fragmentation’ is set out best by this right wing think tank iEA,( –

      IEA describe their mission and purpose ( :

      “It is more vital than ever that we promote the intellectual case for a free economy, low taxes, freedom in education, health and welfare, and lower levels of regulation.”

      All those involved in the IEA’s work,

      “believe that society’s problems and challenges are best dealt with by individuals, companies and voluntary associations inter-acting with each other freely without interference from politicians and the state. This means that Government action, whether through taxes, regulation or the legal system should be kept to a minimum. Our authors and speakers are therefore always on the look-out for ways of reducing the government’s role in our lives.”
      This is why all state support systems are being dismantled and split up. Legal aid removed etc..
      This is not a plug for the left ( honest!) but this stuff is totally unworkable if you have vulnerabilities and need support of any kind from the state, in my humble opinion.

      1. looked_after_child

        the IEA have a ‘donate’ page on their website with a whole section on ‘donating from the US’…. just in case you are an evangelist from the US keen to spread the ‘good government/economic news’ from the US to the UK. ( I think there is a loony right and they have done a lot of damage to our society and they are very keen to do more?)

        1. looked_after_child

          This is how it is done :-

          The American Friends of the IEA is an independent non-profit organisation with US 501(c)(3) status.

          If you are making your donation as an individual from a US income source, you can do so in dollars by check or by transfer:

          By check

          Please make your check payable (in USD) to “American Friends of the IEA” and send to:

          American Friends of the IEA
          c/o Cindy Cerquitella
          Atlas Network
          1201 L Street NW
          Washington DC 20005

          Feels like the Government of the UK is for sale to the highest bidder in UDS?

          1. looked_after_child

            Someone I met who worked at one point in a privately owned UK secure mental health unit explained the American management team used to fly in from America and want to ‘do things’ the American way. They would have to have it explained that the context is different eg there are different legislative frameworks around detention under the Mental Health Act and different approaches re medication regimes for example. Obviously not all the UK ways are better but it is important to understand and comply with the law of the land (well for the moment at least – payback for all those donations to the IEA?..).

          2. looked_after_child

            And this is what a recent serious case review had to say about what happens when ‘things go wrong’ and private providers hold records of treatments etc

            “It is possible that with the increasing involvement of private providers in social care provision (e.g. prisons, care and children’s homes), there may be increasing obstacles in the provision of full information to serious case reviews, due to potential conflicts with commercial interests or with advice from insurance companies.”


          3. looked_after_child

            No comment necessary..

      2. Sarah Phillimore Post author

        I agree. Its a very naive way of looking at life. Individuals cannot simply ‘inter-act freely’ with the courts for e.g. Laws can be complex and not easily understood. The State can have enormous power over individuals and this is inevitable in any society that wishes to be stable. We either need wholesale reform and codification of our existing laws so they could conceivably be navigated by an individual OR we need legal aid!

        1. looked_after_child

          ”The State can have enormous power over individuals and this is inevitable in any society that wishes to be stable”
          That is the crux of the matter. The ideological ‘love affair with fragmentation’ is really a failure to engage with the whole point having a State at all. It is terribly naive – and in many cases leaves the vulnerable to be eaten by wolves like sheep, metaphorically speaking.

          1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

            I agree. The logical end result is a Mad Max kind of society where only the powerful and the ruthless prevail. The rule of law should exist to level the playing field as much as possible to let as many as possible live in peaceful stability.

    2. looked_after_child

      Great work …would wonder though if the focus has shifted for the most vulnerable children, most in needs of rights, to the needs of all a way that might be territory she is most comfortable with?
      She challenges and understands the issues but her cultural perspective is one of being embedded within the establishment (collaborative)? Defends the Care system status-quo too?

          1. looked_after_child

            Is addressing the problems of ‘our’ children just too difficult as things stand?
            My reading of Mumby’s speech is ‘yes it is”. I hope the Children’s Commissioner can challenge this and take a more critical view of the ‘establishment’. I suspect she regrets the ‘hugely exposing’ debacle of the Children and Social Work Bill (Act)
            Innovation/Exemption clauses that showed who was ‘tame’ and who was not in the sector.

      1. looked_after_child

        I wonder about secure accommodation/detention for children, many with disabilities? That is a different world of ATUs and ‘secure beds’ and the like to the one she knows. Working with families is virtually a subversive activity in this world. She has certainly been too closely aligned with the DfE in the past ( Her stance on the Children and Social Work Bill was shamelessly political AND she backed the losing side, thankfully ) – hence MP’s focus on why they share offices.

      2. looked_after_child

        Thinking about it, those in the know, know there is some terrifying info. coming through the system on child poverty and this is expected to get much worse unless 2bn is found – maybe pretty much all children now face an uphill struggle not being vulnerable to poverty and poor mental health?

    3. looked_after_child

      Recently Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division of the High Court stated that in relation to care cases “we are facing a crisis and, truth be told, we have no very clear strategy for meeting the crisis”. As a consequence of that very real concern the Care Crisis Review was born. This is going to be a review which specifically looks at the rise in applications for care orders and the number of children in care. It will be facilitated by Family Rights Group and will be led by the practitioners, professionals and organisations in the childcare sector.

      The first stage of the Care Crisis Review is to bring together evidence about the causes of the current crisis and to collect information about emerging evidence of approaches that can reduce the numbers of care applications and keep children safely within their family networks.

      The FRG would be grateful to receive any information you are aware of regarding evaluated approaches but also effective practice or approaches, whether started recently or in use for some time and have asked practitioners to email details to

  1. Angelo Granda

    Thanks to the writer for this post.

    As far as child-protection is concerned this is the precise question we should be asking…………………………………………….. Why is there always plenty of money available for foster-care and residential care ( the care industry) but never enough for home support and monitoring ?

    Another point I would like to make is that in many cases it is not the National Government which lets us down. It is Local Government. Taxpayers provide finance for services from our ‘money-tree’ but corrupt Local Government politicians and Local Authorities charged with delivering them fritter it away .Perhaps less power in their hands would be of benefit to all not only in child protection. CS should be detached completely from the LA and ‘nationalised’ like the NHS indeed perhaps it could be part of the NHS.

  2. looked_after_child

    hello Angelo
    This is what Sir James Mumby said. ( Bear in mind he is a serving judge and they must speak in ‘code’ when being critical of failure by agencies)
    Quote :-
    ‘The fifth problem reflects the division of responsibilities across Whitehall between different
    Departments and Ministers in matters affecting families and children. The Department for
    Education, the Ministry of Justice, the Department of Health, the Home Office, the
    Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Communities and Local Government and even The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (a recent important announcement of extra funding for Family Drug and Alcohol Courts made by the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Sport and Civil Society) all have roles to play.

    It is an intriguing commentary on how Whitehall is organised that there is no Department and no Secretary of State whose title includes either the word ‘families’ or the word ‘children’, though there is a junior Minister, the Minister of State for Children and Families, in the Department for Education.In some areas, policy and justice are located in different Departments. Thus, at the risk of some over-simplification, criminal policy rests with the Home Office, just as family policy rests with the Department for Education, while both criminal justice and family justice fall within the remit of the Ministry of Justice. Even when this ‘system’ –if that is a remotely appropriate word is working with well-oiled efficiency, it is rarely capable of speaking speedily or with a single voice- let alone decisively and effectively.’

    I really cannot put it better than he did. I’ve been dealing with the great and good in two of these Departments and it is hugely depressing ( career civil servants who would be much better working in flood defenses or pretty much any job where they have no contact with children and families ? )



    1. looked_after_child

      It is not going to continue because it is unsustainable. No government can navigate the C21 with these government structures that are a relic from a bygone age.
      What comes out of that crash is the most important thing?

    2. looked_after_child

      And this is what Dame Christine Lenehan has to say

      Developing coherence within the system

      Within the system there is money, activity and intent which impacts on this group of children. ( children with autism/learning disabilities) However, it fails to come together in a single coherent strategy.

      Delivering improvements in a time of austerity

      The evidence shows us that our group of children tend to be in poorer families and live in challenging circumstances. Even for more affluent and settled families the cuts in local authority support services are biting hard. The loss of local authority early intervention and short breaks services affects our group of children disproportionately. The concurrent pressures on early intervention and particularly prevention services in community health and CYPMHS adds a layer that leads inevitably to higher financial costs and crisis services. This leads to a process where our group of children are escalated through tiers of service as gaps occur and the result is significant pressure on inpatient facilities and a lack of community services for children to return to.
      Over the course of this Review I have taken repeated evidence of inpatient costs for individual children averaging at £1million per child every three years. Throughout the development of this report I asked each interviewee “What does a post-ATU (Assessment and Treatment Unit) placement look like?“ The answer that I got was that they rarely exist and are not being developed, which is one of the reasons that our children can get “stuck” in ATUs. We have created a one way street for children which will mean a lifetime at substantial cost to the taxpayer for some very poor outcomes.

      These are no conspiracy theorists or bloggers – these are establishment insiders speaking out because they care.

          1. looked_after_child

            This is a quote from an excellent report. The children in the report are in residential schools. ( no-one has mentioned Care but bear in mind many kids in Care are autistic or with severe behavioural and mental health difficulties) I have no doubt many of these children are coming into the Care system as teenagers.

            Good Intentions, Good Enough?


            .”.the experiences of some children and young people were troubling, and their voices deserve to be heard. Throughout the course of the review, they told us:-

            • their mainstream schools had made them feel stupid, and guilty about having a disability.

            • support for their SEN would often not extend beyond being left with a well-intentioned but sometimes ineffective teaching assistant.

            • their school’s refusal, despite often repeated requests, to make reasonable adjustments made them feel unwelcome, burdensome and ashamed of their disability.

            • bullying was common, and some young people we spoke to had been the victims of serious assaults by other pupils.

            The cumulative effect that this had on some children and young people’s mental health was concerning. Many spoke of intense loneliness and increasing anxiety, and for some this had led to school refusal and long periods out of education. At one college, all young people we spoke to had experienced depression, anxiety or psychosis…For some children and young people, it wasn’t as much the absence of reasonable adjustments as what they felt that represented. These often weren’t children or young people whose needs required substantial specialist support –they needed to feel reassured that their school wanted them to be there, and was committed to helping them. Those we spoke to often felt like outsiders, imposing on their school’s community.
            Many of the mainstream schools and colleges concerned will be unaware of the damage they’d done to these young people’s self-esteem, and would be appalled to hear such stories. While this damage can be easy to inflict, it can also be difficult to heal.”

            Justine Greening’s response to the report ( She has accepted the recommodations, in the main and she responded at the point of publication not a year later as is usual) gives hope that finally the DfE and policymakers are waking up to what is happening on the ground for children who are ‘different’.

            Now if they could only join the dots to the Transforming Care programme..

            The report is very good – very lucid.

      1. Angelo Granda

        The point about my own children is that they were both diagnosed, prognosed an early age and both had recieved marvellous care frm birth including home support, hospital treatment,special educatiional needs assessments , help from the CDT, overall monitoring and supervision by a consultant in the community and so on and so forth.
        Then the beggars interfered by engineering a referral and took it all away from them! Sorry for the strong language. In a so-called ‘in depth, core assessment for which they did not even consult us, the LA stated falsely that we would not accept professional support, were unable to work with professionals and they ticked a box to say the children were ‘unknown’ to CDT.
        At that time my poor daughter was beginning to string sentences together and could read aloud from her schoolbooks.
        Now she can’t talk at all and her behavioural problems have escalated due to neglect and she is confined under dols.
        We were targeted.
        Question: What are the true aims of LA’s?

    3. looked_after_child

      Here is Christine Lenehan on the subject of children’s rights:-

      Facing the denial of basic children’s rights

      It is important that where we start is with understanding the humanity of the children and young people we deal with etc..

      Here is Mumby on the same subject:-

      The sixth problem reflects the tardy, and even now only incomplete incorporation into our domestic law of the requirement s in Articles 3(1) and 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 3(1) provides that:

      In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

  3. Angelo Granda

    I ask again, what is the true aim of LA’s?

    Autistic girls are treated with drugs in care without their permission and without the informed consent of their parents. Including contraception treatments. According to the terms of a care-order all decisions regarding the welfare of a looked after child should always be taken after full consultation with parents so I have no doubt the authorities are acting illegally and thus we have to question their aims. Do they mean to wipe out autism by stopping these girls reproducing? Looked after child, are there any relevant links?


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