The Real Agenda - Devo Plus

So much of our time is spent working across a plethora of partnerships to improve the lives of children and young people in any given area. This requires us to have a handle on our demographical challenges, anticipate demand for our most vulnerable service users effectively and respond to the increasing requirements of our regulator(s).

At the same time ‘place shaping’ has taken on a new lease of life in the form of the ‘Devo Era’. Ambitious plans are being developed up and down the country to galvanise a better response across traditional administrative boundaries to improve our infrastructure, skills base and to stimulate economic growth.

Juxtaposed to this movement I have been left asking … and what about the children?

The last time this happened I recall being present at a shadow Health and Wellbeing Board, with an agenda dominated by end of life care issues, which of course is a key priority for systems leaders and policy makers alike. However, although a potential cliché, ‘I believe that children are the future’ and at the risk of bursting into song with my Whitney Houston impression, I will stop there. And in any case I left the wig at home today!

When you look at our financial challenges nationally across health and social care: the demographic time-bomb created by advances in healthcare; preventable conditions such as type two diabetes and foetal alcohol spectrum disorder to name but a few; and increasing demands for children subject to care orders, one can see why I might pose the above question. It isn’t just social care and health of course but police partners and colleagues in the criminal justice system would celebrate heartily if they saw a reduction in offending behaviour year on year, against the backdrop of a challenging financial settlement now and in the years ahead. In terms of our aspirations to become a national leader in the global economy, we need a diverse skill base, with a prodigious proportion of highly talented people when compared with leading nations elsewhere in the world and this then introduces the educational element to my proposition below.

As leaders we have a responsibility to improve the society within which we all live and this means planning well for the future and developing, supporting and nurturing tomorrow’s parents today. It is for this reason I feel that a 30 year plan for children and young people should sit at the heart of the Devo agenda. Call it Devo Plus. I think this should be grounded in the principles of early intervention as the case has been well made by many activists in the field such as Graham Allen MP; Frank Field MP; Professor Marmot; Professor Kennedy; C4EO et al. The Early Intervention Foundation’s report, Spending
on Late Intervention: how we can do better for less, articulates the rationale clearly. £17 billion is the cost to the public purse of not making a difference early enough before problems escalate, with the largest share (£6 billion) attributable to local authorities. If just 10% was ring fenced for evidenced base programmes which add value such as family group conferencing; restorative practice and embedding conceptual frameworks such as social pedagogy what difference could we make to ‘Tomorrow’s World’? – now there’s another flash back to the 80s!

Ian Thomas is the Strategic Director of Children and Young People’s Services, Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council and Chair of the ADCS Resources and Sustainability Policy Committee.

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