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All I want for Christmas

We are coming to that time of year when letters to Father Christmas have been posted and children (and many adults!) across the country are waiting to see what the festive period brings. After a year of many challenges it’s also a good time to look to the future as we move towards the end of this parliament and the next Comprehensive Spending Review.

At the recent National Children and Adult Services conference in Bournemouth there was understandably lots of talk of financial challenge and disappointment with the Autumn Statement, but I also felt a real shared purpose and positivity about how we could make things better. Much of the discussion was upbeat and forward looking with a real focus on the imperative to improve outcomes for children by working towards high quality sustainable services.

So, I may be a bit late but what would be on my Christmas wish list for government (on the assumption no additional funding will be found). They should;

  • Set out national conditions to intervene in children’s residential care to ensure that public money is being spent on improving the care of children and not shareholder dividends or paying down debt. Loving homes for our children should not be a commodity.
  • Implement the agency social care workforce reforms at pace and revisit the original proposal to remove managed teams from case holding social work. Children and families need stability to build relationships and the whole system needs a sustainable workforce.
  • Review the impact of ever growing inspection and regulation on the system. The system needs accountability, but it must be proportionate and improve outcomes for children.
  • Remove fragmentation that is driven by competing national policy positions, particularly in education, criminal justice, and health. We need to work together in a coherent joined up system if we are to make things better for children.
  • Be brave enough to accept that the 2014 SEND reforms, whilst set out with good intentions, have failed and created a system nobody is happy with, which is unsustainable and is not meeting children’s needs. It needs systemic and far reaching reform.
  • Address the escalating Home to School transport costs experienced by councils which is driven by the current statutory guidance. The core legislation dates back to the 1944 Education Act and a time when children overwhelmingly walked to their local school.
  • Develop an inclusive education system that meets the needs of all children. ADCS recently published a position paper A future vision for the education system and many of the answers already exist in the government’s own work i.e. Schools White Paper Opportunity for all and the Timpson Review of school exclusions, both of which need revisiting.

We do have a vision for a future social care system set out in Stable Homes, Built on Love and a partial response to the SEND challenges in the national improvement programme, but the current situation requires urgency to address, at pace, some of the intractable issues listed above.

Ultimately, while I have tried to avoid mentioning finance, as well as addressing the issues which are driving unsustainable costs, local government is substantially underfunded. Unless that is addressed, our children will not get access to the services they need and deserve.

Despite all the challenges, I am optimistic for the future and we must not forget the amazing job our staff across children’s services do each and every day. I’d like to thank them all for their commitment to make things better for children and young people. Hopefully everyone will get the opportunity to have a lovely Christmas and enjoy a good break, although I know many will still be working hard over the holiday period to support children and families. Hopefully 2024 will bring at least some of the things on my Christmas list.

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