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Setting our priorities for the year ahead

This week marks my first as ADCS President. It promises to be an interesting and eventful year, more eventful than I realised it would be when I decided to stand for the role at the end of 2018! Things feel uncertain at the moment and in between responding to Covid-19, I look forward to progressing the strong legacy set by Alison Michalska, Stuart Gallimore and Rachel Dickinson in making this A country that works for all children, supported by new Vice President Charlotte Ramsden. I am also very fortunate to be supported by the brilliant ADCS team and in Hertfordshire whose efforts have allowed me the opportunity to carry the torch!

Over the last couple of weeks we have all been sharing our plans, ideas and concerns around responding to this extraordinary situation. It really has shown what ADCS stands for: having children, young people and families at the heart of what we do AND that we are a community of expertise and support for each other. This has enabled ADCS to influence the Department for Education’s and government’s thinking and response because they know that ADCS’s input comes directly from the people who are implementing the practice, from keeping schools open to putting in place a range of safeguarding actions.

However, I do think it’s important to lay out our ADCS priorities for the coming year as they are equally relevant with the current challenges to make sure the voices of vulnerable children and families are heard.

It seems like only yesterday that Rachel Dickinson was delivering her inaugural speech at the ADCS Presidential Reception last year, setting out her priorities for the Association. So much has happened over the past few weeks never mind the past year. Rachel has been excellent in pushing our asks of government and shining a light on the big issues that impact children’s and family’s lives. Many of these, such as tackling child poverty or the need for a long-term national funding settlement for children’s services, will remain at the fore, but there are also other pressing issues that we will give a national voice to as an Association.

Although there will no doubt be some delay, one of the key priorities for ADCS will be to help shape the Care Review for England. Scotland recently published its own care review which proposed a wide range of measures and reforms, from tackling child poverty and inequality to prioritising early help over support at the point of crisis; issues that resonate across the whole of the UK. We must be ambitious about what can be achieved and involve children and young people wherever possible.

A key area that has come forward strongly after talking with regional groups is inclusion and belonging for young people in education and in their communities. Given that so many young people may not be able to be part of their school community for a number of months this will take on even greater importance given the protective factor schools provide.

Another of my priority areas is to highlight and tackle the prevalence of domestic abuse in our society; something that is particularly important over the coming month given the pressures that restrictions can put on relationships and when victims may not feel able to ask for help. It was positive to see that the Domestic Abuse Bill has been re-introduced to Parliament. Although the ongoing focus and debate about this pervasive issue is welcome, it remains the case that millions of lives are blighted by domestic abuse every year. Often described as a silent epidemic, the scale and reach of coercive and violent behaviours is difficult to get to grips with but we do know that this is the largest single factor in the referrals we receive to children’s social care teams across the country. The new Bill contains a range of measures, these include a new court order, a new duty on local authorities to provide accommodation to victims and their children and the recruitment of a new Domestic Abuse Commissioner.

Nicole Jacobs was appointed as the designate Domestic Abuse Commissioner late last year and we were pleased to welcome her to Hertfordshire recently. The Domestic Abuse commissioner will be an important link for ADCS in pushing for further enhancements to the Bill enhancing the focus on prevention and the needs of children and young people which deserve much greater focus and attention. Working with the government and others to this end this will be a personal priority of mine during my presidential year, the £10 million announced in the most recent budget to try new ways of working is nowhere near enough.

It’s going to be a somewhat different year starting as a ‘Virtual President’, however the honour and privilege is just the same! With the support of the excellent ADCS policy committees and the commitment of our members across the regions, we can face any challenge together and support our communities to thrive. I look forward to working with all of you over the next 12 months and championing the rights and needs of all children and young people.

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