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Wed, 02 Nov 22 10:00

An essential date for your diary

It’s that time of year again; you can now book your place for the ADCS Annual Conference in Manchester in July. The programme isn’t confirmed yet, but I’ve been holding the dates in my calendar, and I know I’d move mountains to be there. Why?

For me the conference has two main attractions:

  • The programme
  • The people

I’m confident about the programme, even though I don’t know what’s in it yet. In fact, some of my confidence comes from the very fact the programme hasn’t been confirmed. I know that in organising the conference, ADCS stays attuned to the changing policy and practice landscape, and that as we get nearer to the conference, the most important issues currently confronting directors of children’s services (DCSs) and their senior management teams will all find space on the agenda. Hot topics from previous years have included children missing from mainstream education, support for unaccompanied asylum seeking children, child poverty and sector-led improvement.

This time last year, no one could have anticipated a July plenary session on ‘Recovery from a Major Incident’, but Paul Marshall’s informative and moving presentation about his city’s response to the suicide bombing at Manchester Arena was a vital contribution to the conference. Back in 2016 the Department for Education (DfE) had a slot focussing on the national assessment and accreditation system which provoked a very ‘lively’ response. [Note: no civil servants were harmed in the making of that session!]

DfE ministers get a hearing, as do Ofsted emissaries. Collaborative workshop sessions create exposure for a variety of local authority initiatives and involve partners ranging from universities, think tanks and other government departments to longstanding friends to the sector such as Research in Practice.

Above all, there’s time and space for the people who experience our services to be heard. Children’s words and voices threaded through the 2016 video “Changing the Narrative about the Care System”. In 2017 Lisa and Latoya from Reclaim Project wowed delegates with their head-on challenge to exclusion based on class, gender or race. And people will remember Kerry Littleford’s first-hand account of her family’s experience of the care system for a very long time.

Before, between and beyond the workshops and plenary sessions, the conversations continue. The first day’s DCS-only discussions allow for some no-holds-barred introspection; invaluable time in the company of the only other people who really understand the pleasures and the perils of this role because they do it themselves. We don’t all think alike, so this time can be a useful wake-up call, confronting received wisdom and opening minds to other possibilities. I always come home with fresh evidence to support (or strangle) a proposal, a new approach to try or a different way of looking at things. It can also be a comfort finding others in the same boat; those facing the same difficulties and seeking solutions to the same problems. In 2015 and 2016, when I was leading an ‘inadequate’ authority, my DCS colleagues who had ‘been there, done that’ gave me cause for hope. Last year when we emerged on the sunnier side of intervention, they cheered our ‘good’ result. This is my ADCS family.

As the conference opens up to all members on the second day I’m reminded of how much strength and talent there is across the sector. These are the directors of tomorrow, and the backbone of our services today, so those of us who are directors already have a responsibility to nurture that talent. I’m always pleased when my assistant directors and heads of service are able to attend the conference, and proud when they are presenting their work (though probably secretly hoping that no one else will be so impressed they offer them a better job straight away). I definitely keep my eye out for rising stars and look forward to them appearing in the ‘Little Blue Book’ in subsequent years. If you are an ADCS member wondering whether to give the time to this conference, I would urge you to do so. It provides an opportunity to network and is essential CPD. If you are a director who is hesitating to book, I would say: come along, and bring your top team.

The time away from your home authority, the well-informed camaraderie, the ‘headspace’ to think differently, the wide variety of purposeful inputs and the unapologetic focus on outcomes for children and young people, all make this a very worthwhile 2-3 days in the calendar. I look forward to seeing you all in July.

More information on the conference, including booking forms, can be found here.

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