From and to our friends in the North
It is nearly a year since I started in Blackburn with Darwen as the Director of Children’s Services and Education. I had the opportunity of taking over the role from a highly regarded predecessor, working for a council that had just achieved the accolade of being awarded Council of the Year. Although I have worked in senior leadership roles before, the responsibility of this role and its stretch across the Borough that I serve, has at times been overwhelming, humbling and always a privilege. As an individual I thrive on new challenges and have had the opportunity of working within a broader Corporate Team who are both dynamic and experienced which is just as well really!
All local authorities are facing their own challenges, particularly in relation to managing reducing budgets and increasing need for services. Our council has faced a 68% reduction in its budget over the last 10 years but has managed to continue to put the needs of children and young people at the top of our agenda due to the skill, hard work and commitment of our staff, elected members and partners.
As a social worker I have a strong inclination to assess and analyse everybody and anything, perhaps reflecting for far too long on what to do next. Given the burning platform of rising demand for children’s statutory services and significant budget pressures in our council and region it is clear to me that we have to work with our partners and in our communities to ensure that we are making best use of our shared resources. I have found the recommendations in the Children’s Commissioners Report “Growing Up North” particularly powerful and can only stress the positive impact that our children, young people and families would experience if the government would “provide additional investment in the most disadvantaged areas to support local councils and partners to improve children’s outcomes and life chances – this should start in the North.”
Alongside our increasingly strong partnerships in Blackburn with Darwen, I would like to see a much stronger partnership with central government in tackling child poverty, complex safeguarding, with purposeful action taken to address the emotional health and wellbeing of our children and young people.
I have had the opportunity to listen to our bright, brilliant and at times angry young people at our Take Over Challenge Day at the end of last year. As they were setting out their priorities for the coming year they discussed some of the pressing issues in their area such as the reliance on food banks for many children and their families, dealing with period poverty and limited access to early support for their emotional health and wellbeing. Listening and acting on what was at the top of their list ensures that these priorities are at the top of mine.
Professor Donald Forrester in a recent paper summed up the responsibility that comes with being a social worker and public servant when he wrote, “an act of kindness or the ability to empathise is important not merely because it may influence “outcomes”, but because in such acts of human respect and care we embody the just, humane and caring society we seek to create.”
After twelve months in this role that’s what keeps us all rising to the challenges we each face every day and if the Minister and Secretary of State for Education would like a trip up North to find out more about our challenges and our solutions then I am sure that we could make it a grand day out.