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Tue, 09 Jul 24 10:00

Hopes for the future

Starting the new year, I’m sure we are all glad to see the back of 2020 but know that 2021 will continue to be a real challenge. I last wrote the ADCS blog in January 2020 and was looking forward to what the next decade may bring us. I finished that blog with “Hopefully it will be a less turbulent decade…..” so perhaps I should have learnt to steer well clear of looking to the future. However, many of the challenges for Children’s Services pre-Covid 19 still hold true and the risks in the system have escalated as a result of the pandemic.

The first area I want to highlight is support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). This time last year, we knew that the system was at breaking point, if not beyond, and a national review had started which we hoped would address some of the key challenges. I have a real concern that through the pandemic there has not been the right level of visibility or national priority placed on support for children with SEND. I worry that some of our most vulnerable children, and the hugely stretched family networks that support them, continue to be isolated from services. It is essential that the national SEND Review addresses the endemic problems in the system, created unintentionally by the 2014 Children and Families Act, and we start to reverse the steady move away from inclusion that I have seen over many years.

Another major national priority must be the long-awaited Care Review with the current system supporting our children in care also at breaking point. The Care Review, if done well, gives a once in a generation opportunity to reset and build a system for the future, building on children’s experience and learning from those who are experts by experience. An independent, transparent process is essential and there is much to learn from Scotland’s review.

The review needs to tackle the immediate issues that mean some children are not cared for in an environment that we would want for them, or that they deserve. Talk of a ‘market’ in placements for children in care is inaccurate and as the only ‘buyer’ of placements, the state should have more direct control over provision, with tax-payers expenditure funding quality care and not profits. The current mixed model that has become so dependent on private providers has failed and needs urgent reform.

Alongside that, the regulatory framework should be reviewed. From my perspective, I would like to see regulation focused on children’s outcomes and be about care providers rather than buildings and compliance. A lot has changed since the last major refresh of regulations and they have perhaps not evolved in the same way that the ILACS framework and its predecessors have done. We need to be more flexible in how we provide individualised care for those young people who require high levels of support and have a regulatory framework that enables us to do so, whilst ensuring clear accountability.

Whilst the SEND review and the Care Review are national priorities, the North East as a region has particular challenges in both areas. We have strong regional networks and I know colleagues from around the region are keen to shape the future.

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