This paper describes how government policy thinking about the well-being of children and young people developed between the Children Act 1989 and the Children Act 2004. These two Acts are milestone statements about how services to children in England and Wales should be delivered. It is an account informed by the author’s own experience as a government adviser on children’s social care over much of this period and supporting documentation. It traces the strands of government policy thinking about how to deliver services for children from children in need to the articulation of the five Every Child Matters outcomes. It argues that attempts to achieve coordinated service planning for children and young people played a significant role in the formulation of shared objectives and the articulation of child outcomes. However, it argues that looking at real outcomes exposes how children in the UK do relatively badly compared with other rich nations. It questions whether we can realistically expect our services to deliver significantly improved outcomes given the impact of enduring inequality in our society.
This paper is dedicated to the memory of David Lambert CBE, former Assistant Chief Inspector of the Social Services Inspectorate in London, who died suddenly on 7 October 2010. He lent me articles to assist me in writing this paper.