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Setting our priorities for the year ahead

Yesterday, I was extremely proud to deliver my inaugural speech as ADCS President 2019/20 at an event in London. It was an excellent day and great to see so many colleagues and past presidents who have helped make ADCS what it is today. I must also give special thanks to my colleagues in Barnsley who have been fantastically supportive; allowing me the opportunity to take on this national role and for being there yesterday to cheer me on. The past year as Vice President has flown by and I can’t wait to get stuck in, continuing to strive to make this A country that works for all children, supported by the new Vice President, Jenny Coles, and building on the excellent legacy of Stuart Gallimore and Alison Michalska, who led the call for a country that works for all children.

Looking forward to the year ahead, 2019 seems to be a year of anniversaries, not least for being 30 years since The Children Act 1989 and 15 years since The Children Act 2004 were both given Royal Assent. We need to celebrate what has been achieved over the last three decades, but also not lose sight of the challenges ahead. Much has changed since 1989; children and families face new and often more complex challenges, such as contextual safeguarding, but the core principles of the Act remain the same.

During my speech, I set out the Association’s priorities for the coming year, you won’t be surprised to hear that continuing to press the government for a sustainable and long-term funding settlement for children’s services is high on my ’to-do’ list. A core principle of The Children Act 1989 is prevention and the provision of early help, yet delivering this kind of support is becoming increasingly difficult. We simply do not have enough money to do this well.

Other priorities include a re-assertion of the systems leadership role of the DCS as a champion for children, particularly in relation to their education. A decade of education reforms have left us with one of the most autonomous school systems in the world but this has resulted in fragmentation of oversight and responsibility. I also will not shirk from re-voicing the language of closing the gap in children’s outcomes. I feel passionately that the best way to do this is to incentivise inclusivity in mainstream schools.

Another priority of mine will be continuing to shout about the disgraceful level of child poverty in this country which is continuing to rise – government figures released last week showed that 4.1 million children were living in poverty in the UK. The Institute of Fiscal Studies predicts that this number will pass five million by 2020, many of whom live in working households. I am in no doubt that the impact of austerity has been felt hardest by the most vulnerable people in society and this is another painful reminder of the extent of the challenge. The government says that it is committed to tackling child poverty but I’d like to see parliament commit as much time and energy to addressing this crisis as it has to Brexit. I will use my year as ADCS President to hold it to account and advocate for those vulnerable children and families who are suffering the impact of a decade of cuts to services and significant reductions in resources.

Closer to home, it’s also 50 years since Barry Hines published his classic novel ‘A kestrel for a knave,’ which was set in Barnsley. The pages crackle with local colour and choice northern language but the protagonist, young Billy Caspar, is a working class boy living in poverty. His home has no carpets or heating, he is disengaged from learning and suffers abuse at the hands of his brother, Jud. I recently reread this book and I found myself wondering how different life is for children and families living in poverty where tough decisions have to be taken every day between eating or keeping warm and how this impacts on children’s lives and outcomes.

It’s going to be a challenging year but it’s a challenge that I can’t wait to get started on. With the support of the excellent ADCS policy committees and the commitment of our members across the regions, I feel very confident for the year ahead. I look forward to working with all of you over the next 12 months and championing the rights and needs of all children.

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