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Tue, 09 Jul 24 10:00

A juggling act

In the week that “Freedom Day” was delayed for a month, almost as if it were a DfE policy announcement, I was struck by what we are currently juggling as DCSs and the amazing reach and complexity of our statutory roles. Given I have been doing this since dinosaurs roamed the earth, you might think it would have stopped surprising me by now.

As well as national challenges in common, we all have our unique local issues. As DCS for Kent, I am contractually required to mention our particular challenge with unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) arriving in our county.

Last week I had the very difficult experience of advising our Leader and Lead Member, for the second time in nine months, that I believe it is no longer safe for us to admit newly arrived UASC into our care.

This advice involved a difficult balancing act between one statutory duty under the 1989 Children Act (to care for unaccompanied minors arriving in Kent) and another statutory duty under the same Act (to provide a safe level of care to children we look after). The pace of new arrivals this year, by dinghy at Dover, has been much faster than last year and has simply overwhelmed our capacity. Over the recent bank holiday, for example, we took 50 unaccompanied asylum seeking children and young people into our care and quarantined them. The failure of the voluntary National Transfer Scheme to keep pace with arrivals and ensure the safe and equitable distribution of UASC around the country has left us, once again, without sufficient capacity to offer the standard of care these vulnerable children are entitled to.

We have worked with the Home Office to help them safely place all new arrivals directly from the port of Dover to other LAs for now. It made it easier to give this difficult advice knowing that the young people will be safely cared for in other LAs.

In the past year, locally we have grappled with the emergence of the Kent Variant, the closure of the border with France and 15,000 HGV lorries parked on our motorways. You all have had your own versions of these local challenges, and they certainly add variety to our collective set of national ones.

In addition to all the catch up and recovery challenges, we face a long list of incoming issues. In the next year we have the Care Review and what follows, the SEND Review and the looming precipice of High Needs deficits, further transition to a national funding formula for schools, a push for enforced academisation and another Comprehensive Spending Review, to name but a few. The usual juggling act may involve a few grenades this time.

Finally, I want to pay tribute to three Past Presidents of ADCS who will retire in July. John Coughlan, Jenny Coles and Stuart Gallimore have each made significant contributions to our sector and to ADCS. I will miss them all, expert grenade jugglers and friends that they are. I look forward to hearing from them regularly about the joys of retirement.

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