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A wonderful rollercoaster of a year!

As my year as ADCS President draws to a close, I’ve spent some time reflecting on what has been the most wonderful, rollercoaster of a year that has flown by and undoubtedly been the highlight of my professional career. It has been such a privilege to represent my peers and the wider sector and I have tried to take on that responsibility whilst staying true to my values and ensure that impact and outcomes for children and young people have been central to everything we’ve done. I’ve met some amazing people and had the opportunity to champion key themes; the scourge of child poverty, importance of inclusion, and the need to focus on inequality and disproportionality.

I believe ADCS is a thriving Association which has enabled me to build on the work of my predecessors and take advantage of the doors they have opened so that the voice of ADCS is recognised in shaping and influencing national policy. At the heart of the Association is our fantastic staff team led by Esther as Chief Officer. The team provide the continuity and foundations for success as Presidents come and go (as I’m now finding out!). I’ve been so lucky to benefit from their support over the course of a year and I thank them for the invaluable role that they play in the success of ADCS. I’d also like to say a big thank you to everyone who has enabled me to take on the role over the past year; the political and corporate leaders in Durham and my excellent senior team, although they may have mixed views about seeing more of me!

One of my key priorities has been to further develop ADCS as a diverse and inclusive Association. A diversity and inclusion working group has been developing plans to better understand our role in this space and ensure that issues around diversity, equity and inclusion are woven throughout the work that we do. Our ambition is for leaders and the wider workforce to truly reflect the communities we serve and we will continue to support efforts to improve diversity across local authority children’s services. As a start we are actively creating the environment where the ADCS Board and policy committee membership is truly representative. We are at the early stages of addressing our overall ambition with much more to do and I know this will continue to be a priority in the coming year.

Part of my role as President has been to spend time with colleagues from across the country to understand their priorities so I can represent the views of the sector at the national level. It is clear is that the headline challenges are consistent across all regions and all types of local authority regardless of their local context. It has also been really inspiring to see the innovative ways leaders across the country are addressing the challenges and some of the excellent practice that exists but doesn’t get showcased enough.

In terms of the national policy landscape, it could have been a difficult year at the end of a parliamentary cycle and leading up to a comprehensive spending review however, that’s not been the case due to the increasing profile of children’s services in national debate. ADCS has continued to engage closely with government in the national reform programmes for children’s social care, SEND/Alternative Provision, and Early Years. There have also been other key strands of work on the separated migrant children, right care right person and the government’s response to major inquiries such as IICSA and the National Panel Review of care in the Hesley Group.

Whilst reform is important it has been the immediate issues that have really dominated over the last year; financial pressures created by the failed children’s residential market, workforce and the agency social worker proposals, the broken SEND system, children’s mental health, school attendance/inclusion and challenges with regulation and inspection. These are longstanding endemic challenges that need a system wide approach to resolve them. The next government must prioritise these issues leading to real change and investment in children and the services they depend upon. ADCS has set out clearly both short term solutions as well as a longer term policy direction on key issues.

ADCS has also published two major policy papers over the past year aligned to my presidential priorities; Childhood Matters and A Future Vision for the Education System. It is clear from the response to both papers that the key messages and recommendations within them have significant support across the sector. As we move into the next parliamentary cycle, I really hope that they can help form a blueprint for a better future. It is essential that we have a national plan for childhood that cuts across government departments setting out a coherent vision. Children must be visible in all national policy discussions, and we will not make progress without addressing the shameful levels of child poverty in this country.

I am delighted to be handing the Presidential baton on to the fabulous Andy Smith, DCS in Derby City, who I know is going to be a great President. Andy will bring his own style and approach to the role and be a great advocate for children and young people in what is a critical year as we head into a general election. Despite the challenges, I remain optimistic there can be a bright future ahead as long we keep the focus on our core values and doing the right thing for children.

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