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Give a little bit of yourself

In common with many other directors of children’s services (DCSs), I do a monthly blog as part of a newsletter that goes out to all children’s services employees in my local authority. Whilst these have been really welcomed some of the feedback from staff was that they would like to get to know more about their colleagues and the Senior Management Team as people through the newsletter.

With this in mind we have started giving staff the opportunity to share their ‘Lockdown Stories’ and in June I decided to share mine. I debated long and hard about how much within that story I would share, I wondered about the impact on professional credibility should I outline some of the reality of life as a DCS, parent, partner and pet owner.

In the end I decided I would just go for it. I will not recount the full tale here, but it included a very important meeting on ‘Teams’, the commencement of window cleaning, my dog turning rabid guard dog and the intrusion of a teenager sharing his shopping list. I wrote about the chaos, the stress and the need to find humour. I also told of how those on the other end of the meeting were totally oblivious to this due to my effective and timely use of camera/mute buttons when I checked with them after the meeting. I reflected that even those who appear to be coping well are having to adapt and that staff who are finding working from home stressful or challenging are not on their own.

I can honestly say that in my four years as DCS in Derbyshire I have never had such an overwhelmingly positive reaction to anything I have said or written before. I was inundated with messages from staff not only within children’s services but from those who had received the article from their colleagues. Our communications team even asked my permission to run it in the corporate newsletter. Staff passed on to me their own experiences and stories, some of which were heart breaking and others which were hilarious, and whilst this created an issue for my mailbox and in responding to them it was worth every minute.

What I learned more than anything is that staff want to see that we are human, that we have real lives and that we don’t always find things easy. In our quest to look professional we can dehumanise ourselves and create a disconnect from those who we most need to engage with us. We can also undermine the confidence of that very workforce through illusionary perfection. It often feels like we give everything to the job but I will also now give more of myself – as imperfect as that may be.

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