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Gary Younge
Why the UK sees Vermont as the future

The New England state of Vermont is the unlikely location for what British child protection agencies regard as a model of good practice in child protection.

Between 1992 and 1998 the number of child victims of sex abuse fell by half and physical abuse fell by 45%.

"Politicians love reorganisations," said Cornelius Hogan, Vermont's former secretary of human services, who pioneered the approach. "But they are useless if you don't understand that the well-being of children goes beyond any one organisation."

Vermont brought together anyone with an interest in child welfare, including schools, the police, churches, as well as government bodies into community boards. The state then provided them with information about how their local communities were performing where children's welfare was concerned. And then, armed with that data, they asked participants what they would like to improve and how they thought they should go about it.

By using the expectation of where they wanted to end up as a starting point, said Mr Hogan, who now works as a consultant on child protection around the country, he was able to carry a number of disparate interests groups along with him. "We organised more around outcomes than organisations," he said, adding: "There was nothing quick or outstanding. We didn't see results for three or four years."

By the end of the 1990s high school graduation had risen and Vermont had bucked the US trend in an increase in teenage pregnancies. Between 1990 and 1996 this approach saved the state around $16m (£9.7m) in avoided costs, almost half of which came from reducing teenage pregnancies alone.

"We're all asking the state to pick up the pieces of these awful family dysfunctions," said Mr Hogan. "You can lower the numbers but you cannot eliminate aberrant human behaviour."

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