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Feeling energised after the ADCS Annual Conference

I’m writing this blog just a few days after returning from the ADCS Annual Conference in Manchester. This is always a key event in the year for leaders of children’s services where we come together to discuss, debate, and reflect on a wide range of policy areas and priorities. It’s always incredibly useful to hear views from across the sector on the issues that are important to the Association and for children. This year at conference we had input from the likes of the Department for Education, including two Director Generals, Baroness Barran MBE, who is the Minister for Schools, the Children’s Commissioner, Ofsted and NHS England, amongst others. John Pearce, ADCS President, and I reflected that there was a great buzz and energy throughout the three days, where despite the ever-increasing challenging context of managing demand and the financial constraints directors of children’s services face, there is still room for optimism as we collectively work to make the country one that works for all children.

It’s always great at conference, of course, to catch up with DCS colleagues, past and present, and it really helps to recharge the batteries and remind you (which we all need at times regardless of how long you have been in the job) that we are all broadly facing the same challenges and issues, and all want to do the best job we can as system leaders for children in our place. There were 22 DCSs attending their first ADCS annual conference as a DCS; and whilst not necessarily new to ADCS membership, nor in some cases being a new DCS, it was positive that these colleagues had decided to attend the conference. I hope those attending for the first time were not only inspired and energised, but also left feeling part of a supportive and cohesive gang.

We talked a lot at conference about the role of the DCS, both in a wider corporate context across our local authority areas, but also as players in the wider strategic partnership. This made me reflect personally, and with a range of colleagues at conference, about the role of the DCS. It’s a privilege but there’s no doubt it’s also a tough gig. The latest annual ADCS DCS Update showed that during 2022/23, there were 50 changes in DCS post-holders, which included a number of brief interim appointments prior to substantive appointments; the average tenure for a DCS is four years.

When you become a DCS it’s assumed that you are a subject and technical expert in all things children’s services. Whilst we are experts in some areas, invariably we aren’t in all, especially if it’s a first DCS role, and the need to reach out and forge informal and formal relationships in your region and beyond (say by joining an ADCS Policy Committee) is important. It’s ok not to have an answer to everything, and I continue to find the insight and experience of DCS colleagues invaluable. We talked at conference, and do a lot in my region the East Midlands, about how as DCSs we navigate the corporate and political space. This is as important as operating as a system leader across the wider partnership. It can sometimes feel like a bit of a tightrope, but as DCSs we need to remember we don’t operate in a vacuum and need to reach out and use the support and collective wisdom of each other.

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