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At what point do you stop being an imposter?

I’ve always valued being part of ADCS and, as someone who sits on the Council of Reference, privileged to work with the most talented colleagues (too numerous to mention) to contribute to debate, discussion, and policy shaping that positively impacts on children’s lives.

Having just celebrated my 6th anniversary as Manchester’s Director of Children’s Services (DCS) (do I qualify as ‘experienced’?) and still able to vividly recall my first days, I stole a moment of reflection with Deborah Woodcock, DCS in Cheshire East… We asked ourselves ‘at what point do you stop being an imposter?’ This blog is somewhat coproduced as a result:

Well, where to start. I’m Deborah and I’m a new DCS…not new-new, but new-ish, if that’s what seven months is…long enough to know what I don’t know, but not to know it all…if indeed I ever will or should. Full disclosure…I’m a social worker, with leadership skills and experience; I’m super-enthusiastic to work in an integrated way, focused on impact and outcomes…but I can’t help asking myself…is this going to be enough? Will I be what is needed…and even, sometimes…will I get ‘found out’? So, some reflections on moving from the director of operations role in a local authority I’d professionally grown up in, to the DCS role in a neighbouring authority.

Firstly, wow, what a privilege to work with a team dedicated to improving outcomes for children: with heads passionate about inclusion; college principals collaborating to strengthen the skills offer; participation workers ensuring our cared for children are heard - colleagues supporting families with care, compassion, and wisdom, making a difference every day.

Secondly, the DCS role can seem a lonely place, shouldering phenomenal responsibilities, in a complex financial, political and policy context. But look around…there’s my CEX, lead member, regional peers, the wonderful upon programme (a must for any new DCS), my DCS mentor - a lifeline in the early days and now a fabulous support and inspiration, along with the wider ADCS network. I’m not on my own, I might not know the answer but I’m beginning to know a friend who does!

And thirdly, really getting to know teams by spending time with them, visiting schools, attending children’s reviews, talking about what works and what doesn’t has helped me see where, strategically, I can make a difference…which, let’s face it, is what we all want, isn’t it?

After talking with Deborah and in a moment spent reflecting on the Care Review, we see ever-present leadership and workforce challenges locally and across our region - where average turnover for social workers is 14.5% and 39% for DCSs. So, whilst the vast majority of DCS appointees are, like Deborah, new to the role, they’re an integral part of our Association and system. It seems, ‘imposters’ or not, we all have something to give, and to learn - only together do we make lasting change that improves the lives of children, young people and families.

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