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Opportunity knocks

As we move into spring it’s a time of change and I have the privilege of taking up the ADCS presidency for the next year, following on from the formidable Steve Crocker who has left me with very big shoes to fill. In his final blog last week Steve reflected on an eventful year filled with major national policy programmes, political instability and despite the challenges some really excellent work across our sector.

It has been an absolute pleasure working with Steve and he will be truly missed as he moves on to a well-deserved retirement. We will all miss his wisdom, good humour and friendship; he has left a significant legacy both on the system as whole and ADCS as an association. I’m delighted that Andy Smith, DCS in Derby City, has been elected as my Vice President and really looking forward to working closely with Andy over the next year at a critical time for children’s services.

One of the main issues that Steve has championed over the past year, children’s mental health, will continue to be a key focus. The impact on children and young people on a system that is overwhelmed and no longer fit for purpose has been highlighted over the last 12 months and it’s now essential we continue to push for a full national review of services. There has also been significant change in the health system with the introduction of Integrated Care Systems and there is a risk that this structural change further moves the focus away from ‘place’, disadvantaging community health provision for children. There must be a better way and it may be time for us as DCSs to be given the levers to effectively lead place-based integrated services.

A key priority for my Presidential year will be on inequality in all its forms. Working in the North East I see clearly the direct impact of poverty on children’s lives and the inequality that creates in education, care and health. I would also like to see the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) system move away from a focus on diagnosis and labelling to a more social model that helps children be independent and fulfil their potential. To support this, it is essential that the ambition in the SEND improvement plan for greater mainstream inclusion is met. This can only be done by being honest about the barriers to mainstream inclusion including resources, curriculum, inspection, and the accountability frameworks our schools are subject to. Our education system should be for all children not just those who fit the prescribed expectation established in the current mainstream model.

It is also a critical time in relation to our workforce. The workforce sufficiency challenges are well documented and it’s really positive that DfE has recognised and tried to address the concerns around agency practices that have particularly destabilised the social care workforce. The national social work workforce consultation launched by DfE alongside the care review implementation strategy gives a real chance to reset. Our workforce does amazing things often in extremely difficult circumstances and we all have a responsibility to create an environment in which they can thrive. To achieve that the national intervention proposed by DfE is essential but we all also need to create the conditions for high quality practice at a local level so our staff can continue to make a difference in children’s lives.

It’s an exciting time with significant opportunity to shape the future for our children and young people through a range of national initiatives, and I haven’t even mentioned the Care Review implementation! I will be totally committed working with Andy over the next 12 months to focus on the opportunities and challenges to make things better for children and effectively represent the views of our members. I have learnt from the past year that things can change quickly (three Secretaries of State in three days during conference!) and we need to be ready to respond but hopefully the next 12 months will be a bit more settled.

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