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Bringing the Future Forward – Finding the next generation of...

There is no question that the Director of Children’s Services (DCS) role is demanding and ever changing - with an increased focus on leadership of place, complex systems and operating in uncertainty. It operates under intense scrutiny and regulation, the accountabilities and responsibilities held by a DCS are not ones shouldered lightly.

So where do we find our next generation, why would someone want to become a DCS and what does a good DCS look like?

A good DCS must be a passionate advocate for children, they must be able to develop and sustain relationships at all levels, they must be agile systems thinkers who are comfortable operating with ambiguity and negotiating an intricate network of partnerships which must be nurtured. DCS’ operate in an acutely political environment so they must have political nous, probably the hardest thing to teach. But beyond some of these key skills how else would you spot a good potential DCS?

It is probably true that since the role came into being there has been a shift towards those with children’s social work or social care experience, however, if you look around the country there are some exceptional DCS’ from a range of backgrounds be they teaching, adult services, education professionals, or other fields. You could also be forgiven for thinking, given the current make-up of the sector, that a DCS can be male or female but is probably going to be white - this must change. Whilst we have seen a small number of individuals in DCS roles over the years those from black* and Asian backgrounds remain significantly underrepresented and this is not due to lack of talent. However, people with both the talent and the support, preparation, and readiness to be a DCS will not just magically appear, we need to build the conditions in which they can emerge and this includes looking throughout the leadership pathway and creating opportunities to spot those who may not yet aspire to be the DCS of the future but should. If we want to increase diversity, we need to seek difference and act differently with succession planning that actively seeks those from a range of backgrounds and develops strategies to create new leadership journeys and to nurture and develop visibly different spaces.

And to the big question “why would I want to be a DCS”? As someone who has only recently stepped away from the role to focus on developing the leaders of the future, I firmly believe that there is no greater privilege than being a DCS. It is a role that brings challenges, opportunities and no one day is like another - the role will stretch you and hopefully fulfill you. Our children deserve people who believe in them and are determined to make a difference. If you have those qualities and don’t yet aspire to be a DCS maybe you should.

*Black as used in a broad political and inclusive sense

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