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Learning from ‘experts by experience’

As I returned to work after the Easter break and with daffodils, Easter eggs and fluffy chicks and bunnies to convince me that it really is spring and a new business year, I reflected back on the last few months and a freezing winter. A few weeks before, I was part of a panel at the launch of the second phase of the Care Quality Commission’s review of children’s mental health services and was honoured to hear a young woman and her mother talk as ‘experts by experience’ about their lives during her teenage years of suffering severe mental illness. I was overwhelmed by their resilience in the face of extreme challenge and inspired by their ability to reflect on their experiences for the benefit of others. The fact that the young woman’s mother gave up her social work career to care for her daughter made their story even more profound.

They really were experts by experience and I love that term and all that it offers us as we seek to develop our strengths based working practices with families. The young people we seek to understand and work with are experts about their lives, with resilience that we too often fail to recognise in our desire to help. Our ability to listen well, respect their expertise and work with their strengths surely has to make us more effective in our work. Mental health is such a huge focus right now and as an Association we are seeking to grasp the opportunities that gives us to work more closely with health colleagues at local, regional and national levels around partnership working for better outcomes. The government’s Green Paper on transforming children and young people’s mental health will bring funding opportunities for more support at an early help level and in our schools, although a long term sustainable plan is still needed. We need to be ready to link that into our other early help work and to encourage joint commissioning and working at all levels and bring together our shared expertise.

Life is tough in our world of children’s services, demand has increased whilst budgets most definitely have not, and it’s not going to get any easier but Alison Michalska, in her year as president, has led us on a great journey and the powerful message about creating a country that works for all children is gaining traction. As Stuart picks up the presidential crown, I know he will help steer the wonderful team that is ADCS through another great year and continue to build the ADCS influence that shapes strategy and policy that works for children. Will that influence extend to more money in the coffers? We can only keep on making the case but I know for sure that if we continue building our partnerships with health and education we stand the best chance of making our shared resources stretch as far as possible. Despite our challenges I love what I do and I love being part of ADCS. We really are stronger together!

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