A Christmas Carol

As I write this blog, we are in the final days of the various general election campaigns. By the time you read this, you will know the result. Predicting the future is always a fool’s game but thinking about the future of children’s services before knowing government policy for the next five years seems particularly foolish… although that’s never stopped me before!

As we approach Christmas, it is also tempting to look at this issue through the lens of that great Kent resident, Charles Dickens, and think about the ghosts of children’s services past, present and future. Thinking of the characters in A Christmas Carol, we might want to consider the right early help offer for the Cratchit family and whether they have recourse to public funds, and particularly how best to meet Tiny Tim’s needs. We might also wonder which Chancellor is the best fit for Scrooge, and which Secretary of State or ADCS Past President most resembles Jacob Marley and Fezziwig.

That’s the thing about general elections – they are often a time for looking to the past and the future, reflecting on values, aspirations, belief and trust. One frustrating aspect of this election (although you are spoilt for choice on that one) is that services for children have not been given nearly enough prominence, priority or airtime by any of the parties during this campaign. They all have policies and points of difference, but very little time or political capital has been expended talking about them.

As a sector we have been consciously looking back, as well as into the future in the last few months. Rachel Dickinson’s ADCS presidency has coincided with the 30th anniversary of the Children Act 1989 and the 15th anniversary of the Children Act 2004. Along with other past presidents, I have contributed to the debate about those two ghosts of children’s services past and their significance today. Tempting though it is to dwell on things that were better in the past, such as funding levels, it is also instructive to acknowledge the things we have improved, for example corporate parenting, both with and without sufficient resources.

When it comes to Christmas present and Christmas future, it is hard to see beyond an adequate funding settlement at the top of the Christmas list for the incoming Government. However, as leaders we need to look beyond that. I have been fortunate to be involved with the Staff College on their Project 2035 which is a creative exploration of the world our children could inhabit in 2035, and what children’s services across the country could look like by envisaging four different scenarios. I invite you to explore their antecedents, implications and challenges for children’s services leaders and it will be interesting to examine each of them in the light of the election result.

Part of the luxury that some of the scenarios afford us is the chance to speculate on what you would do if your resource prayers were answered. What would you do to reshape your services if an incoming government suddenly comes up with an extra £3bn per year for children’s services?

My current favourites include reducing caseloads to an average of 5, to allow for intensive, long-term, preventative direct work with families, and transforming our care offer to allow teenagers to move in and out of very high-quality care settings and supported living at home, as their need arises – similar to a model I have seen in Finland. We could create a state care offer with the very best of everything, a comprehensive offer for SEN close to where children live - I could go on, but what would yours be?

On that happy thought… Merry Christmas, one and ALL!


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