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ADCS Annual Conference

Last week the Association held its annual conference in Manchester. This event allowed us to come together as a sector to debate the pressing issues of the day and to share the innovative solutions being developed locally in response to the challenges we all face.

On Thursday, in my address to conference, I talked about the need to create a country that works for all children. In fact, this was the golden thread running throughout the conference, and on Friday two inspirational young women, Lisa and Latoya, from RECLAIM took to the stage to tell us their thoughts on what a country that works for all children might look like. I’ll return to this a little later on.

Another strong theme at the conference, and in my speech, was poverty and its impact on the children and families that we work with. I stated some pretty hard-hitting statistics about poverty, many of which some of you will have heard before, but I thought it vitally important to reiterate the rising levels of child poverty in this country as well as the relatively new phenomenon that is ‘in-work poverty’. I might add that England is the only country in the UK that doesn’t have a child poverty strategy. This cannot be right.

I also touched on funding for children’s services and schools and a self-improving system for children’s services. ADCS together with the LGA is working on a proposal for the creation of Regional Improvement Alliances aimed at spotting the antecedents of service decline and taking preventative action before services reach crisis point. This is absolutely what a self-improving system in children’s services seeks to achieve. Of course, where children, young people or families are being failed, intervention is necessary – whether in the form of a children’s services trust, social enterprise company etc. Driving sustainable improvement at the same time as growing a new organisation requires complex navigation of some pretty choppy seas by high-quality leaders. I take my hat off to those of our members who are doing that.

I would like to say how grateful I am to all of our members, external speakers and guests who attended the conference and to those who contributed towards sessions over the three days. And a big thank you to those of you who ran workshops. Unfortunately, and as much as I‘d like to, there isn’t enough space in this blog to mention you all so I have had to pick out just a few highlights from the conference programme.

On Thursday it was great to hear from the Minister of State for Children and Families, Robert Goodwill, in his first speech since his appointment. He spoke about his new role and priorities for the DfE going forward. Including his belief that the Department should be doing more to identify struggling councils earlier and a renewed commitment to the reform programme set out in Putting Children First (2016). He also announced funding for a number of new Innovation Programme projects.

This was followed by a session on permanence in which we heard from Kerry Littleford, a public health practitioner from Hackney with experience of the care system. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to be in this session but I have had the privilege of hearing Kerry talk about the impact of neglect and her experience of the care system before. Her story is incredibly inspiring and powerful. I have it on good authority that the room was stunned into silence. In the same session, Mark Owers, co-reviewer, The Fostering Stocktake shared some early but useful findings on fostering and Andrew Christie, Chair of the Adoption Leadership Board shared with delegates some changes and trends in adoption.

I was pleased to welcome HMCI Amanda Spielman to the conference on Friday. In her speech, she focused on the need for a broad-based curriculum that supports all children to thrive. This is something ADCS absolutely supports and we welcomed her announcement of a review into the curriculum earlier this year. She also spoke about the new inspection post SIF, the many challenges facing the sector and reiterated the importance of leadership in creating the conditions where social work can really flourish, and therefore have the greatest impact on the families that we work with.

Earlier, I mentioned Lisa and Latoya from RECLAIM. To say that these two young women impressed delegates is an understatement. Since the conference I‘ve heard nothing but good things about the points and challenges they raised. They spoke about the need for families to be able to afford basic things including food and bus fare, the need for more diversity in education and investment in services for young people. It was wonderful to hear their views and they left us with some interesting asks which I hope we will each take back to our councils to influence our practice.

Last but not least, a lot of preparation and work goes into organising an interesting programme, securing speakers and facilitators and making sure that the events runs smoothly. So I would also like to extend a big thanks to the ADCS staff team for all of their hard work.

Bring on next year’s conference. When I can kick back and relax whilst my wonderful Vice President, Stuart Gallimore, does all the hard work!

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