problematizing every child matters

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

cover - everychild mattersEvery 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:

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. ( 2008)

Every Child Matters is, thus, two things:

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 governmentSocial 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:

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:



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

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.

CIPFA, 2007, Delivering Good Governance in Local Government, London, Chartered Institute for Public Finance and Accountancy.

Department of Health (2002) Safeguarding Children. A Joint Chief Inspectors' Report on arrangements to safeguard children. London: Department of Health. [ Accessed September 30, 2008].

Department of Health, 2008, Tackling health inequalities: 2007 Status Report on the Programme for Action, London, Department of Health.

Devine F, 2004, Class Practices – How parents help their children get good jobs, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Hilton, Z and Mills, C. (2006) ‘I think it’s about trust’: The views of young people on information sharing. London: NSPCC. [ Accessed October 3, 2008].

Hughes G, 1998, A Suitable Case for Treatment? Constructions of Disability, in Saraga E (Ed), Embodying the Social: Constructions of Disability, London, Routledge.

Janes L, 2006, 'Children in Need', Socialist Lawyer (Number 45, December, 2006)

Jeffs, T. (2006) 'Too few, too many: the retreat from vocation and calling', (accessed February 21st 2008)

Lownsbrough H and O’Leary D, 2005, The Leadership Imperative: Reforming children’s services from the ground up, London, Demos.

Morgan G, 1986, Images of Organisation, London, Sage.

Osler A, Street C, Lall M and Vincent K, 2001, Not a problem? Girls and school exclusion, London, National Children’s Bureau for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Parton N, Thorpe D, Wattam C, 1997, Child Protection and Family Support: Tensions, contradictions and possibilities, London, Routledge.

Paton G, 2008, Truancy rates rise despite £1bn campaign, The Daily Telegraph, February 27, 2008

REACH, 2007, An independent report to government on raising the aspirations and attainments of Black boys and young Black men, London, REACH Group/Department for Communities and Local Government.

Reading R, 1997, Social disadvantage and infection in childhood, Sociology of Health and Illness (volume 19:4) pp 395-41

Reiss M, 2006, Sex Appeal, Institute of Education Life, Issue 3 Summer 2006 (pp 20 – 27, London, Institute of Education,

Samaritans/Oxford, 2002, Youth and self-harm: Perspectives – A report, Ewell Surrey, Samaritans with the Oxford Centre for Suicide Research.

Thorpe D, 1994, Evaluating Child Protection, Buckingham, Open University Press.

UNICEF, 2007, Child poverty in perspective: An overview of child well-being in rich countries (Innocenti Report Card 7), Florence, UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre.

Wilkinson R.G. 1996, Unhealthy Societies: The Afflictions of Inequality, Routledge, London.

Wilson D.C. and Reilly J.J., 2006, Obesity in Childhood – more than a cosmetic problem, ( accessed November 23rd, 2007).

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. [].

© David Hoyle 2008