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Every Child Matters was an English government paper that grew into a wide-ranging and influential strategy for work with children and young people. David Hoyle reviews the statement and resulting strategy, and critiques it. He reveals some profound difficulties for those it touches – especially informal educators.

contents: introduction · the genesis of every child matters · the evolution of every child matters · ensuring every child matters · critique – the problem of every child matters · conclusion · further reading and references · about the writer · how to cite this piece

Every Child Matters was a simple, bold, aspirational statement of policy for children and young people by Her Majesty’s Government (England). It was formulated in response to a report by Joint Chief Inspectors and the findings of a public inquiry chaired by Lord Laming. Published in tandem with these, Every Child Matters, a Green Paper,  set out proposals for addressing the immediate concerns identified in both reports, and a range of circumstances that occurred in families and impacted on the lives of children and young people in England.

Cross-party support in both Houses of Parliament meant the Green Paper quickly became transformed into the Children Act 2004. It was ‘one of the most significant changes in local children’s services in living memory’ (Lownsborough and O’Leary, 2005, p.11). As a means of supporting implementation of the Act, the Government used Every Child Matters as a title for the suite of documents fundamental in driving forward it’s vision for organizing and ‘delivering’ public services in ways, at times, and in places intended to, in its own words, enable every child and young person to become a full and active member of English society.

Every Child Matters: Change for Children focuses on the well-being of children and young people from birth to age 19. The Government’s aim is for every child, whatever their background or their circumstances, is to have the support they need to:

  • Be healthy
  • Stay safe
  • Enjoy and achieve
  • Make a positive contribution
  • Achieve economic well-being

This entails organisations involved with providing services to children – from hospitals and schools, to police and voluntary groups – teaming up in new ways, sharing information and working together, to protect children and young people from harm and help them achieve what they want in life. (http://www.everychildmatters.gov.uk/aims 2008)

Every Child Matters is, thus, two things:

  • It was the title of the Green Paper published on September 8th, 2003, and it is the suite of publications issued by the British Government to underpin the implementation of the Children Act 2004 in each local authority area in England.
  • At another level, it is an inescapable moral imperative intended to fuel a radical reform of public services in England. After all, who could possibly argue that only some children matter?, or if only some matter, which ones matter and which don’t?

My intention in this article is to briefly describe the genesis, evolution and framework of Every Child Matters; and develop a critique of Every Child Matters, by making visible the systems of social, professional and political relations that underpin the Every Child Matters ‘brand’.

The genesis of Every Child Matters

Following a number of high-profile inquiries, there was growing pressure to deal with the inadequacies they had revealed in the way different services dealt with children deemed to be at risk. Concern had spread beyond professions and services involved and had become a focus of press comment and more public debate.

Safeguarding Children

Between 1998 and 2001, the eight Inspectorates of public services carried out individual and joint inspections of local arrangements to safeguard children in different parts of England. [The eight Inspectorates are: The Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI), The Healthcare Commission (CHAI), HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), HM Inspectorate of Probation (HMiP), HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP), HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI), HM Magistrates Inspectorate of Courts Administration (HMICA), and The Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED).] Findings from these inspections were published as Safeguarding Children (Department of Health 2002). The Joint Chief Inspectors noted that whilst public services generally appeared aware of, and acknowledged, their shared responsibility for ensuring children were safe; this was not always reflected in their policy and practice arrangements. For example, different public services in some areas did not appear committed to, or willing to fund, the work of their local Area Child Protection Committee (ACPC). Key services in some areas were also experiencing severe difficulty in recruiting and retaining people to work in child protection and in child welfare – which eroded the effectiveness of local inter-agency arrangements to safeguard children.

The Laming Inquiry

On the evening of 24th February 2000 Victoria Adjo Climbié – who had been born near Abidjan in the Ivory Coast just over eight years earlier – was admitted to the North Middlesex Hospital in London. Victoria Climbié was desperately ill: she was severely bruised, physically deformed by repeated beatings, malnourished, and her core body temperature was so low it could not be recorded on the hospital’s standard thermometer. Despite extensive efforts by Dr Lesley Alsford and her team, Victoria Climbié’s condition continued to deteriorate. In an attempt to save her life, she was transferred to the paediatric intensive care unit at St Mary’s Hospital Paddington – where she died a few hours later, on the afternoon of 25th February. The resulting inquiry, chaired by Lord Laming, into the circumstances leading to Victoria Climbié’s death was central to Every Child Matters highlighting among many things, the failure of the different services in contact with her to communicate with each other, and to intervene.

Other circumstances in the lives of children and young people

Working effectively with each other to safeguard children and young people and prevent their deaths because of the actions and/or inaction of their parents or caregivers is only one of the multiple challenges for government and the public services in contemporary England:

  • A UNICEF report ranked the United Kingdom in the bottom third in a sample of rich nations on five out of six measures of child well being (UNICEF, 2007).
  • Despite high levels of expenditure on attempts to eradicate it, truancy rates in England continue to rise (Paton, 2008).
  • Boys from black and ethnic minority communities are three times more likely to be excluded from school than white boys (REACH, 2007). Schools are using unofficial and informal forms of exclusion (which remain absent in official statistics), and girls appear more vulnerable to such forms of exclusion than boys (Osler et al, 2001)
  • There are significant, persistent and increasing health inequalities between children who live in disadvantaged communities and those who live in advantaged neighbourhoods (Reading, 1997; and Acheson, 1998).
  • Suicide rates amongst teenagers and young adults in England and Wales have increased three-fold since 1980 (Samaritans/Oxford, 2002).
  • Childhood obesity rates in the UK are among the highest per capita in the world (Wilson and Reilly, 2006).
  • The proportion of young people in England in custody is the third highest in Western Europe (behind Turkey and the Ukraine) (Janes, 2006).
  • Conception rates among under 18s and the incidence of serious sexually transmitted infections among young people in England are the highest in Europe (Reiss, 2006).

The evolution of Every Child Matters

The original Green Paper proposed that local public services should focus on four key themes in their joint development of services that would enable children and young people in their area to make progress against five key outcomes defined by Section 10 of the Children Act 2004. It named the public services that were required to promote for children and young people in their area. These five outcomes are referenced continuously throughout Every Child Matters documents. Section 10 requires public services to ensure children and young people’s: physical and mental health and emotional well-being; protection from harm and neglect; education, training and recreation; the contribution made by them to society; social and economic well-being. These are usually summarized as enabling children and young people to: Be Healthy, Stay Safe, Enjoy and Achieve, Make a Positive Contribution, and Achieve Economic Well-Being.

The four themes identified were that:

  • Families and carers are the most crucial influence on children’s lives. Services should be provided that enable families and carers to effectively support their children.
  • Interventions with children and young people should take place before their circumstances and/or behaviours reach a crisis point necessitating statutory intervention.
  • The underlying problem of weak accountability and poor relationships between agencies and establishments identified by Lord Laming during the Climbié Inquiry needed urgent resolution.
  • All those working with children and young people should feel valued, and receive the training and support they need to carry out their work competently and confidently.

The Green Paper was the basis for extensive consultation on proposals about services for children, young people and families – inside Parliament, with managers and practitioners in public services, and with parents, carers, children and young people. At the end of the consultation period, and using material from the Green Paper and responses from a range of individuals and bodies, the Government issued Every Child Matters: the Next Steps, and published the Bill that became the Children Act 2004.

Ensuring Every Child Matters – elements underpinning ‘whole system change’ in local areas

The challenge which Every Child Matters brought for local public services was to develop and implement policy and practice arrangements that would enable all children and young people in their area to make progress against the five outcomes. Improving outcomes for children and young people in each area, it was thought, would depend on effective shared analyses of local circumstances – and would be achieved by delivering integrated services, and introducing work processes that are common across partner agencies within a framework of integrated strategy and governance. The Department for Children, Schools and Families created a diagram to illustrate inter-dependencies between these elements of ‘whole-system change’ at local level.

(http://www.everychildmatters.gov.uk/aims/strategicoverview/?asset=document&id=21444 ).

 every child matters

 I want to look at each of these elements in turn.

Inter-agency governance

CIPFA (the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy), SOLACE (Society of Local Authority Chief Executives) and the Audit Commission provide the following definition of governance. It:

… is about how local government bodies ensure that they are doing the right things, in the right way, for the right people in a timely inclusive, open, honest and accountable manner. It comprises the systems and processes for the direction and control of local authorities through which they account to, engage with and lead their communities.’ (CIPFA, 2007).

One of challenges of Every Child Matters for local public services was to have effective governance arrangements in place, and also for them to have agreed and implemented arrangements for the shared governance of their collective work to improve outcomes for children and young people in their area. Effective arrangements for the joint governance of local services was intended to provide a robust framework for accountability – outwards to children, young people and families in local communities, and upwards to Government and the Inspectorates of public services.

In each local authority the Director of Children’s Services (or equivalent) is accountable for joint work with other public services to improve outcomes for children and young people. A local Councillor (elected representative) must take the lead in the Council on services for children and young people (the so called Lead Member).

The 2004 Act and Every Child Matters places specific responsibilities on Directors of Children’s Services and Lead Members. These include working with Chief Officers and senior manager in Council services, and organisations in the public, private, voluntary and community sectors to put in place shared governance arrangements, policy structures and practice arrangements; and creating a Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB).

Integrated strategy

A strategy should provide a means by which an organisation makes sense of, and responds to, the challenges and circumstances it faces. This provides a basis for deciding its priorities, profiling the use of resources (budgets and the skills and time of its people) and shaping its future services. A strategy also provides senior managers with a rationale and structure for engaging managers and practitioners in their organisation in identifying success criteria and setting targets to monitor the effectiveness of services for children and young people; identifying the information the organisation needs to acquire to increase its effectiveness; and, for managing communications inside and outside the organisation.

Once again, Every Child Matters challenged chief officers and senior managers of local public services to move from simply developing strategy for their own organisation, to working with a range of partners to develop an effective joint strategy for their collective work to improve outcomes for children, young people and families. The Every Child Matters guidance places requirements on Directors of Children’s Services and Lead Members in every local authority area in England to ensure Council services, relevant partners and other bodies:

Carry out joint analyses and prioritisations of local needs which actively involve children, young people and their parents/carers. This should lead to a pooling of budgets and other resources, and to the joint commissioning of child-centred services from providers in the community, voluntary and independent sectors. Create a Children and Young People’s Plan (CYPP), which should be a unified strategic plan to improve outcomes for children and young people, which reflects local and national priorities.

Local arrangements to improve outcomes for children and young people – including inter-agency governance and strategy – were subject to scrutiny by joint Inspectorates, and will include Joint Area Reviews (J.A.R.s) and Annual Performance Assessments (A.P.A.s).

Integrated processes

If local Council services, relevant partners and other bodies were to improve outcomes for children and young people in their area, it was argued that there needed to be a fundamental re-evaluation of existing service delivery processes and procedures. This could lead to changes in order that the joint delivery of services was supported by processes and procedures that are effective for local children and young people. Integrated services for children and young people were to be based on the local implementation of centrally-driven processes that are common to all disciplines in the children’s workforce. [The Department for Children, Schools and Families created the term ‘children’s workforce’ to describe anyone (whether employed or volunteers) whose work brings them into contact with children, young people and their families. The DCSF included workers and managers whose service user is an adult in a household where there are children and young people (for example: a parent may be under the supervision of a Probation Officer or Community Psychiatric Nurse, but the PO or CPN becomes a member of the children’s workforce when they (or someone working with a child in the household) have concerns about the well-being and/or safety of a child/young person in the household)].

Amongst others, these key processes included:

The Common Assessment Framework (CAF) – a structured process for collecting information about the development, circumstances and/or behaviours of a child/young person; and, a form for recording this information – which became standard across all public services in every local area throughout England.

Improving the sharing of information between practitioners, including: the creation of ContactPoint (see http://www.everychildmatters.gov.uk/deliveringservices/contactpoint); the creation of national standards for information sharing amongst local public services; and, developing local protocols to support the sharing of information about the development, circumstances and/or behaviours of children and young people.

Integrating the delivery of services for children, young people and families

A theme running strongly through Every Child Matters is that improving outcomes for children and young people could only be achieved by transforming the ways in which managers and practitioners in the different public services are organised:

Integrated working arrangements should start from the needs of children and young people – not the structures of local public services, their organisations, departments and teams. Public services should work with each other to provide services in ways, at times and in places that meet the needs of local children, young people and their families. Integrated, accessible and personalised services should ensure effective intervention at an early stage with children and young people – rather than at a stage when their circumstances have reached a crisis point necessitating statutory intervention. Locating managers and practitioners from different disciplines and services in a multi-agency team (for example, Youth Offending Team, Early Intervention Support Teams), on a particular site (for example, a children’s centre, community health centre or extended school) or both was intended to break down any obstacles and barriers that may exist between professional disciplines, services and teams.

Central to transforming the ways managers and practitioners work with children, young people and their families was enabling every member of the children’s workforce to gain a common core of knowledge about children and young people’s development and needs (see http://www.everychildmatters.gov.uk/deliveringservices/commoncore).

Outcomes for children and young people

The Children Act 2004 and Every Child Matters established every child and young person’s entitlement to make progress against the five outcomes. To emphasise the importance of these outcomes as a focus for local action, the Department for Children, Schools and Families created the Outcomes Framework – against which local public services are expected to agree their priorities, plan changes to their services, and measure their collective progress towards improving outcomes for local children and young people. The framework can be viewed at: http://www.everychildmatters.gov.uk/aims/outcomes/?asset=document&id=16682

The chronology of documents

(Available at http://www.everychildmatters.gov.uk/publications) is as follows:


‘Safeguarding Children’ – A report of the Joint Chief Inspectors on local arrangements to safeguard children throughout England


The Victoria Climbié Inquiry chaired by Lord Laming

Keeping Children Safe – A response by Government to the Victoria Climbié Inquiry and the Joint Chief Inspectors’ report ‘Safeguarding Children’

Every Child Matters – the green paper

Every Child Matters: What Do You Think? A version of the green paper for children and young people


Every Child Matters: Next Steps

The Children Act 2004

Every Child Matters: Change for Children

Every Child Matters: Change for Children in Health Services

Every Child Matters: Change for Children in Schools

Every Child Matters: Change for Children in Social Care

Every Child Matters: Change for Children in the Criminal Justice System

National Service Framework for Children, Young People and Maternity Services

Working with Voluntary and Community Organisations to Deliver Change for Children and Young People


Every Child Matters: Change for Children – Young People and Drugs

Common Core of Skills and Knowledge for the Children’s Workforce

Youth Matters – A green paper


Care Matters: Time for Change. A white paper

Critique – the problem of Every Child Matters

Every Child Matters was, in many respects, a positive social policy programme that was the catalyst for a radical reform of the ways services were provided for children, young people and families in England. At one level it could be thought ridiculous to consider criticising Every Child Matters – how could anyone argue that not every child matters? At another level, it’s for this reason that a critique of political, social and moral relations immanent in Every Child Matters needs to be developed.

Only relates to England

One immediate, practical concern is that the Children Act 2004 and Every Child Matters relate only to the 150 local authority areas in England – no parallel legislation has been put before the Welsh or Northern Ireland Assemblies, nor the Scottish Parliament. This raises various issues, including:

Children, young people and families who move between England and other states of the United Kingdom experience different entitlements and differing service delivery arrangements. For example, Councils in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland – and their partners and other bodies – are not required to re-design and integrate services to enable children and young people to make progress against five key outcomes. Also, processes – like the Common Assessment Framework (CAF) and ContactPoint – are not scheduled for implementation in Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland.

Whilst an absence of parallel legislation could be taken to indicate that the Welsh or Northern Ireland Assemblies and Scottish Parliament don’t think every Welsh, Northern Irish or Scottish child matters, those bodies may reflect a commitment to the safety and well-being of children and young people in different ways. For example, the posts of Children’s Commissioner for Wales, for Northern Ireland and for Scotland were created (and with greater authority and more extensive powers) some years before the post of Children’s Commissioner for England was established by the Children Act 2004.

Every Child Matters as a language game

However, at a deeper level Every Child Matters is a language game or discourse – a favoured way of thinking that is imbued with the full weight, authority and power of the English state. As a power based construction of reality, this favoured way of thinking not only expresses an entitlement for England’s children and young people, but also inherent within it is a potential to exclude some groups of children, young people, their parent(s)/ carer(s). The Every Child Matters way of thinking has the potential to enmesh formal and informal educators in an unquestioning participation in the cognitive and semiotic traps of the ‘brand’, and in the assumptions, taken-for-granted beliefs, language games and the premises and practices inherent in that ‘brand’, which,

While they create a way of seeing and suggest a way of acting, they also tend to create ways of not seeing, and eliminate the possibility of actions associated with alternative views of the world. (Morgan, 1986, p 202)

Central to the Every Child Matters way of thinking is a re-enforcement and perpetuation of a focus on visible ‘symptoms’ in the lives of children, young people and families. A shallow focus obviates any critical dialogue about the structural inequalities in contemporary England from which such ‘symptoms’ can emerge. For example, public services are required to work with each other to provide services that ensure children and young people can ‘Be Healthy’ – in the outcomes framework this broad outcome is reduced to, reducing infant mortality; obesity; conception and sexually transmitted infection amongst under 18s; and the use of Class A drugs. In taking a shallow focus on such ‘symptoms’, attention at both national and local level is diverted away from deep and widening health inequalities between advantaged and disadvantaged communities in England (Department of Health, 2008). Yet, as Wilkinson (1996) argues, it is from deeper inequalities in socially divided societies that negative physical and psycho-social health emerges for children and young people and also for their parents/carers. Linked to this are questions about the ‘invisibility’ of major aspects of children and young people’s lives within the five outcomes. For example, the whole question of spirituality is not mentioned anywhere in the outcomes framework.

The invasion of children’s rights to privacy

A further set of questions surround the extent to which the processes and procedures associated with the Every Child Matters agenda seriously invade and undermine the rights of children to privacy set out under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The concern with ‘joined-up services’, monitoring the behaviours of children and young people, and to the sharing of information has led to both to the construction of databases that often unknown to them, contain intimate material on a scale that has been deemed disproportionate by the Information Commissioner; and to the ability of a wide range of people to access that information. In addition, it has drawn a range of practitioners (including many informal educators) into the formal surveillance process. There has been a fundamental cost to this. Children and young people are being denied spaces to explore feelings, experiences and worries away from the gaze of the state. A visit by a child or young person to a third sector advice agency, for example, to talk about sexual activity can quickly trigger police intervention. The loss of this space is very significant and the Office of the Information Commissioner has found that children themselves were concerned about invasions of their privacy, and that they would be reluctant to use ‘sensitive services’ – and may turn away from ‘official’ agencies and rely more heavily on other sources of help and information (Hilton & Mills, 2006).

In the context of this deep critique, there are also two further areas for concern:

  • the social construction of realities and norms inherent in Every Child Matters against which policy makers, the social professions, and formal and informal educators engage in situated moral reasoning about services that meet needs emerging out of the circumstances and behaviours of the children, young people and families they work with; and,
  • the tensions for organisations and individuals in the public services created by a centralisation of credit: diffusion of blame that is inherent to Every Child Matters.
The social construction of realities and norms and situated moral reasoning

A hard driven focus on improving outcomes requires, as we have seen, the social professions and formal and informal educators to continually assess – and make judgements and decisions about – the development, behaviour and circumstances of children, young people and their families. In the context of such monitoring and scrutiny, we need to recognise that norms inherent in Every Child Matters – and within which we make assessments and decisions – are socially constructed. In this monitoring and scrutiny, it’s also important to recognise the role of ‘situated moral reasoning’ in the design and delivery of services – a witting and unwitting process through which moral value or worth is attributed against an individual and/or their behaviour and/or their circumstances.

Berger and Luckmann (1967) suggest that human interactions are maintained by conscious and unconscious patterns we acquire, internalise and revise as children in our families, and during our education and schooling, our training, careers and day-to-day lives. The processes through which the realities and norms that underpin our interactions and decisions are constructed remain largely invisible to us in daily life – because to take part in those interactions we don’t need to continuously revisit them, nor regularly question the validity, reliability and sufficiency of our collective reality.

Yet, English social policy is referenced against particular realities and norms, which reflect white, middle class, patriarchal, heterosexual, Christian, able-bodied ideals (Hughes, 1998, p.27). Inherent in Every Child Matters is a collection of specific and particular social, cultural and moral norms that provide an underpinning framework for policy and practice about work by local public services to improve outcomes for children and young people. Formal and informal educators who base their practice in the norms implicit in Every Child Matters, whilst remaining unaware that such ‘facts’ are socially constructed realities with a historical and political heritage, may be to participate in an institutionalised exclusion of some groups and communities.

Thorpe (1994; and in Parton, Thorpe and Wattam, 1997) coined ‘situated moral reasoning’ to describe the two-way relationship between the internal cognitive processes of the social professions (and formal and informal educators), and the external social, political and organisational contexts where they work. That is, between their thinking and decision making about the development, circumstances and behaviours of children, young people and their families, and the constraints of organisational contexts where such thinking and decision making occurs. In practice, situated moral reasoning means that the services offered to children, young people and their families may be an outcome of peripheral and contextual factors, not simply the assessments by formal and informal educators about children and young people, and their development, behaviours or circumstances. For example, our decisions about the design, organisations and operation of services for children, young people and their parents/ carers will be informed by:

  • Unconscious values and beliefs – which include our personal perceptions about an individual; and the degree to which we believe them individually accountable for the reason we are involved with them in our professional role. So, in our decision making we may be more professionally sympathetic towards a child with a congenital hearing impairment (because they cannot be considered in any way ‘blameworthy’ for their circumstances) than we may be towards a young person (and their parents/carers) whose behaviour has led to their permanent exclusion from school (because their circumstances are a direct outcome of behaviour they knew to be unacceptable to members of staff at the school; and/or of parental discipline that appears ineffectual).
  • Conscious processes the impact on our decision making of our knowledge about relationships between our employing organisation and other public services, and the availability and allocation of scarce services and resources by our team, organisation and other services.

The following illustrate some implications of ‘situated moral reasoning’ in the organisation and delivery of Every Child Matters by local public services – and for individuals at every level in those organisations.

Chief Officers and senior managers

Which from the full range of possible services, will be delivered (or commissioned) by which of the partner organisations, for which groups of local children, young people and their families, in what places and at what times?

The resources of local public services (budgets, and the time and skills of teams and staff) are fixed. So, in what ways will the totality of resources available across the local partnership be combined, utilised and targeted to continue providing, and further develop, an appropriate menu of services to meet the identified needs of local children, young people and families?

Which partner organisation can or should provide which services from the locally agreed menu of services, and/or how will services be jointly commissioned to meet evidenced local needs?

How will collective decisions be made by partner organisations about whether services and teams are effective in improving outcomes, and evaluate whether the effectiveness of a service or team is in proportion to what it costs?

How will children, young people and their families be able to access their entitlement to different services from the menu of available services:

Can children, young people and their parents/carers access services directly (by self-referral), or only by means of a referral on their behalf from a member of the children’s workforce (professional referral)?

Where are different services to be located – in the neighbourhoods where children, young people and families live (which would enable ease of access), or in different parts of the town, city or region.

At what times are different services to be available – office hours (which may exclude working parents/carers), or during evenings and weekends?

How will managers and staff be actively supported to implement changes in their working practices, and engaged in conversations about the implications of such changes for their terms and conditions of employment?

Managers of operational teams

How will services and teams profile the entitlements of different groups of children, young people and their parents/carers to different services from the menu? What criteria and/or thresholds will be used to ration different services against individual needs and/or local demand? For example, arguably the numbers of children on a local child protection register reflects the resources available (the number of social workers available to carry out assessments and hold cases) rather than the extent of abuse, harm and neglect experienced by children and young people in local communities.

What arrangements will be put in place to manage the workload of the service/team? (for example, service level agreements, referral criteria, codes of practice)

In what ways will managers of multi-agency teams gain support to effectively coach, lead and manage formal and informal educators in their team who are from disciplines in which they have no practice experience?

If data and information shows that their service/team is not effective in improving outcomes for children and young people, or is expensive in terms of the outcomes it achieves, how is the manager supported to make changes to improve effectiveness?

Social professions and formal and informal educators

How will staff be consulted, engaged and informed about changes that will impact on their ways of working with children, young people and their families?

How will staff differentiate between and prioritise the circumstances, needs and behaviours of children, young people and their families?

Will staff have the space, time and permissions to talk in solution focussed ways about the opportunities, tensions and challenges in implementing common processes to support multi-agency, early intervention with children, young people and families?

The centralisation of credit: diffusion of blame

Every Child Matters offers a sweeping vision about children and young people’s entitlements whilst delegating full accountability for the delivery of the services that enable children, young people and their parents/carers to achieve these entitlements to local public services. In practice, ministers, politicians and civil servants have effectively delegated accountability to individual Councils, their partners and other local bodies for organising themselves to ‘deliver’ the most complex ‘whole system change’ in a generation – whilst continuing to display an inability or unwillingness to acknowledge, or develop effective national solutions for, the structural and systemic problems from which negative outcomes can emerge for children and young people.

However, Every Child Matters is only one of the imperatives and change programmes to which Councils and other public services are required to respond by government. Local public services are subject to extensive programmes of legislation and guidance, which requires them to juggle competing and conflicting priorities, and:

  • Be creative, innovative and flexible in their joint development of new ways of working with children, young people and families – but at all costs improve efficiency and avoid mistakes.
  • Develop long term integrated strategies – but improve their output against the outcomes framework and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) now.
  • Reduce back-office costs (the costs of services that support the practice of formal and informal educators in contact with children, young people and families) – but improve morale and teamwork across and between staff in different organisations.
  • Empower formal and informal educators to work confidently and competently with children, young people and their families and with each other – but make sure they closely follow their own organisation’s corporate rules and procedures.

The moral imperative immanent in Every Child Matters effectively enables politicians and civil servants to centralise credit to themselves for driving forward a grand vision, whilst simultaneously diverting any blame for failures in the delivery of that programme onto local Council services, their partners and other local bodies. 


Every Child Matters is, in some ways, a refreshing and radical reform in the ways public services are expected to work with children, young people and families. It is also an example of what Morgan (1986) calls a psychic phenomenon – within which, as members of the children’s workforce, formal and informal educators can become ‘imprisoned’ by a collection of images, concepts, and thinking. In the construction of Every Child Matters as a favoured way of thinking, politicians and civil servants have aggressively projected individual collective and national anxieties and insecurities onto diverse, dynamic, complex and uncertain fields of practice where managers and practitioners work closely with many of England’s most vulnerable, troubled and troublesome children, young people and families.

Formal and informal educators (and their managers) in public services are in the beginnings of wrestling with both the challenges of working creatively and effectively with each other and with children, young people and families who experience and present a range of social, emotional, financial and behavioural circumstances – and simultaneously with their personal challenges, fears and anxieties: for their survival and their identity within the scale and pace of the changes required of them by Every Child Matters. The demands all of this places on formal and informal educators and on managers throughout public services erodes opportunities for reflective and creative dialogue about the challenges we face and opportunities available to us. Yet, ensuring Every Child Matters in each local authority area in England will be fundamentally reliant on members of the children’s workforce keeping each other in mind (even when we are not in direct communication), and attempting to maintain a constructive relatedness with each other, that may be in competition (and occasionally conflict) with our other forms of accountability.

Inherent in Every Child Matters is a seductive and powerful potential to enmesh formal and informal educators in an obedience and passivity that may run contrary to our vocation and calling: to participate in a favoured way of thinking that glosses over, or institutionalises the invisibility of deep structural inequalities in contemporary English society. In engaging with the information and critique offered in this article, my hope is for formal and informal educators to be reminded of their active choice in how we operate in our roles and in our practice:

  • Whether as autonomous self actualising practitioners who have, “…a disinterested love of her fellows and an understanding of the aims she is pursuing and the methods of so doing – in other words, a mature person with knowledge, judgement, objectivity, and a sense of values in social affairs” (Younghusband 1947, cited in Jeffs, 2006).
  • Or, as an unquestioning technician of a favoured way of thinking promulgated and sanctioned by government – inherent in which is a specific and particular moral order.



The Department for Children, Schools and Families maintains an Every Child Matters website. It is regularly updated, and includes links to related government and non-governmental web sites.


The full text of the Children Act 2004 is available at


The documents which were, and are, central to the Every Child Matters programme can be viewed and downloaded at http://www.everychildmatters.gov.uk/publications

References to texts/materials cited in this article

Acheson D, 1998, Independent Inquiry into Health Inequalities, London, The Stationery Office

Berger P.L. and Luckman T, 1967, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge, New York, Anchor.

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About the writer: Dr David Hoyle is a research active leader and practitioner who has worked, and continues to work, in different fields of practice with children, young people and their families. He received an M.Sc. from Lancaster University in 1998 and a Ph.D. from the same university in 2007. On the basis of his practice and research, David continues to develop a systemic critique of the thin rhetoric and sound-bite politics that, in his opinion, has characterised the social and educational policies of successive governments in respect of children, young people and their families since the mid 1980s.

Acknowledgements: The illustration and other material from the Every Child Matters strategy is reproduced here by the informal education homepage under licence. © Crown copyright 1960, 2000 (Crown copyright material is reproduced
with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen’s  Printer for Scotland.)

How to cite this article: Hoyle, David (2008) ‘Problematizing Every Child Matters’, the encyclopaedia of informal education. [www.infed.org/socialwork/every_child_matters_a_critique.htm].

© David Hoyle 2008

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