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It may be Black Friday…but roll on the Happy Mondays!

Today is Black Friday! It may feel as though it is so called because “it follows Black Thursday, or it’s at the end of a very bad year”, but the day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday, is the busiest shopping day of the year. However, after the year we’ve all had, it does seem particularly aptly named for 2020.

ADCS has 130 associates, most were previously substantive DCSs, ADs, or senior leaders within local authorities. In the main, they now work across many LAs rather than just one and, as such, they are reporting similar pressures repeatedly shouldered by children’s services senior leadership teams and their staff. These challenges are tackled with dedication, hard work, creativity, integrity, resilience, and bravery. And, at the risk of stating the obvious, these common challenges are the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on disadvantaged children and young people, compounded by crippling levels of budget savings, layered on top of years of austerity, increased awareness of diversity issues, the cataclysm of global warming, and a physically and emotionally exhausted workforce…hey! It’s Black Friday!

Our associates also recognise with much empathy, the ways in which our leaders are holding our communities together by impressively mitigating the effects of exhaustion and pessimism. It is a privilege to be an associate, but also humbling because one wonders how one would have coped in such extreme circumstances. Therefore, mindful not to lecture, here are some observations from our network. Just as we ask, what is it like to be a child living in their family, associates often ask, what is it like to work in that local authority? For associates, the defining difference of what looks like a good local authority isn’t about structures and systems, but cultures.

Generous partnership: “how can we help?” This is the default phrase heard from leaders that seem to thrive best. In offering support, they also welcome and receive support from others. They work with partners, personally and organisationally. In short, they are open to both giving and receiving.

Optimism: it is a delight to work with some local authorities, some children’s services energise all those they touch, and are great places to work. The difference is optimism! People seem to cope with dysfunctional IT, unclear communications, or role confusion, but not with pessimism.

Restorative practice: finally, a clear balance of both challenge and support. Local authorities where restorative practices are part of the culture, rather than just policy or procedure, really do seem to cope the best.

So, belying both my age and many years spent in wonderful Salford, forget Black Friday…and in the words of Shaun Ryder, “don’t stamp out your fire…change your desire”…roll on Happy Mondays!

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