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Children in Care Council

Jenny Coles | Chair of the ADCS Families, Communities and Young People Policy Committee | Director of Children’s Services, Hertfordshire County Council

I’m writing this just before the autumn term starts, early indications show that exam results are good for Hertfordshire schools again.

The summer holidays are a great time for me to “get out and about”. A couple of weeks ago on a very rainy day, along with over 50 children in care, I got involved in a variety of activities at the Celtic Camp in Hertfordshire. Richard Roberts, lead member and I were really pleased to hand out the Children in Care Awards to social workers and carers in what was a rather dark medieval hut! It had been a lively and successful day despite the weather and credit is due to the Children in Care council who have worked hard to get a range of children and young people coming to their events. It’s inspiring to have care leavers who are creating new lives for themselves but still so committed to the Children in Care Council’s activities.

On the theme of resources there have been two challenges this week. We received the consultation letter from the Youth Justice Board on the reductions in funding that are likely to come for youth justice services. What’s in my mind is that the year on year reduction in first time entrants to the criminal justice system made savings for example in the secure estate and court work has been made possible by the emphasis on multi-agency prevention programmes. The balance between investing in prevention to stop young people’s behaviour escalating to specialist and more costly interventions is likely to be our focus in the coming months. In fact we know this is the balancing act across all our services which will no doubt be brought into sharper focus after the central government budget review in the autumn.

Secondly, increasing take up of the two year old free child care offer is still a major focus for us. We have good results across all our early years services and we know we can do better here. Children’s centres are working hard to find out why parents are not taking up the offer and working with our early years team. I know Hertfordshire is not the only local authority challenged with this.

Also this week Sally Orr, Head of Early Years at Hertfordshire, and I visited Bridge Road Children’s Centre part of the Stevenage North group. We were keen to know how the group model was developing following on from new contracts in April. There have been challenges in bringing different staff groups together, looking at different programmes of activity and parental involvement. However, the opportunities in sharing good practice and ideas to improve what could be offered to families who were most in need of support was really encouraging. The importance of children’s centres contributing to a universal offer through partnership with GPs and health visitors while still focusing on vulnerable families is key for Bridge Road. We kept coming back to building resilience not dependence. It also made me think yet again that good local relationships are key to making the best of the resources available.

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