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Taking care of (regional) business!

This week saw directors of children’s services (DCSs) from the 15 councils of Yorkshire and Humber come together for our bi-monthly regional ADCS meeting. It was our first meeting following the retirement of Nigel Richardson the former DCS for Leeds who has made a fantastic contribution over many years to improving outcomes for children not only in Leeds but across the region, nationally and more recently internationally. It’s a contribution that will be greatly missed, our meeting didn’t feel quite the same without Nigel, with his unique approach and brand of humour.

The demands of the agenda grabbed our attention and despite missing our newly retired colleague we just got on with the business at hand. It’s an experience shared by us all; losing a respected colleague who is an important part of our professional frame of reference. The fact that we move on quickly, driven by the demands of the business is inevitable. That said we approach the job in hand shaped by our experiences of others; it’s their lasting legacy.

And the business of the meeting was as ever demanding. We reviewed an update from our regional lead for workforce development and an evaluation of our regional approach to social work training, recognising its benefits and looking for ways to develop it further. Next up was a pooling of our individual experience of Ofsted’s approach to school complaints and particularly their expectations of the local authority role. Unsurprisingly there were significant differences across the region and the discussion was useful. Neatly avoiding the temptation for a group therapy session about Ofsted, we turned our attention to the update from our regional lead for sector-led improvement (SLI).

We are reviewing our SLI regional agreement – a formal document signed off by directors and lead members for children’s services, our intention is to strengthen the document based on our experience of self-assessment and peer challenge within the region to date. We are in the process of updating our self-assessment within our regional framework in preparation for the challenge process scheduled for the New Year. The discussion concluded with a decision to engage with colleagues at the Department for Education (DfE) about the capacity we have within the region to support and of course challenge the improvement process.

Next we were joined by colleagues from Migration Yorkshire, as we are co-producing a regional approach to the National Transfer Scheme for unaccompanied asylum seeking children. Our purpose today was to review progress with the business case for three welcome centres across the region to support our ability to assess and respond appropriately to the needs of this most vulnerable group of children and young people. There were some testing elements to the discussion as we are keen to secure the collective commitment of the DfE, Home Office and DoH to an innovative, integrated and flexible regional approach. Our colleagues left us an hour later to move on to a discussion with lead members from across the region, who were conveniently meeting next door.

Before moving on to a series of updates on the early years funding consultation, budget pressures, and school places we received an evaluation of the regional Festival of Social Work conference held at the end of June. Attended by over 200 colleagues across the region this children’s social work conference facilitated a good practice exchange and a celebration of social work. The evaluation was overwhelmingly positive and DCSs agreed recommendations to hold a further conference in November 2017 and make a small increase in their contribution to the budget to fund it. As a fellow DCS said in his blog last week ‘being valued is absolutely critical to recruit and retain a stable workforce’ and we know that key to delivering good services is stability of the workforce.

As I brought the meeting to a close we reflected on the strength, breadth and depth of our regional capacity for effective collaboration. There’s always more to do – here’s to our next meeting in December!

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