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Time flies

As I sit down to write my last blog as ADCS President we are in a state of national emergency and the challenge of Covid-19 is absorbing all our time. As we respond to the emergency and the associated national guidance, we have fundamentally changed the way we are working and living. The crisis has created even greater imperatives to work together at local, regional and national levels, and to keep the interests of children centre stage. So, whilst we are all getting used to a new and temporary normal, I’m going to take a short ‘breather’ and avoid the obvious topic of Covid-19 for my last blog. I’m choosing instead to provide a bit of respite for those of you who may need it by reflecting on the last 12 months of my presidency before I hand over the reins to the marvellous Jenny Coles, DCS in Hertfordshire, and our President for 2020/21.

I have really enjoyed the past 12 months with all its highs and even with its lows. I have to say too that despite all the warnings I received from past presidents, it has gone by much faster than I expected! The past month has been especially difficult for all of us and I, like everyone else, am incredibly humbled by the commitment of the children’s workforce; the courageous social workers, teachers, NHS staff and all other key workers who have been working tirelessly to respond to the crisis. All of us in local government have been working around the clock to carry on supporting those who rely on our services. Alongside all this local resilience activity ADCS has been in regular contact with DfE, DHSC, Ofsted and others to feed in our collective concerns and help find sensible practicable solutions to the challenges we face. Now more than ever, it’s essential that ADCS continues to provide a voice for all children and for children’s services and I know that Jenny will do a brilliant job in leading the Association over the coming weeks and months.

As an Association, we should be very proud of what we do and the positive impact we have on the lives of children and families up and down the country. The ADCS policy committees, Council of Reference and the regional groups all keep the work of the Association going but we couldn’t do this without the expertise and generosity of all our members which we are hugely grateful for. We are as strong as the engagement of our membership facilitated by the work of a brilliant team under the leadership of Sarah Caton. I’m proud of the fact that the impact of ADCS is strengthening year on year.

When I delivered my inaugural speech in April last year, I said that it was a year of interesting anniversaries – 2019 marked 30 years since the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Children Act 1989, as well as 15 years since the Children Act 2004, receiving royal assent. These documents put children’s wishes and feelings central to decisions made about their lives and it is important to celebrate their successes. It is also a great opportunity to reflect on the intervening 30 years and challenges children and young people now face which is why we invited all ADCS past presidents, along with myself and Jenny Coles, to write a short reflection on the Acts’ successes and what has changed since they became law.

2019 also marked 50 years since Barry Hines’ novel A kestrel for a knave which tells the story of Billy Casper, a young lad from Barnsley who lived in poverty, despite living in a working household. The parallels with Billy’s experiences and those of the many children growing up in poverty today should concern us all. Fuelled by my outrage at this uncomfortable truth, I have made it my business as President this past year to use the lived experience of children to highlight to government the shameful levels of child poverty in this country, and the devastating impact it has on children’s lives now and their futures. This is a baton that Jenny will pick up when we look to this year’s Spending Review when it eventually re-starts. The current situation with people stockpiling whilst food banks face both shortages and security risks serves to highlights the challenges facing families living on low incomes and in poverty even more and the desperate need for a child poverty reduction strategy.

Since my inaugural speech in April, the Association delivered two policy papers. The first was a discussion paper on serious youth violence and knife crime, published during ADCS Annual Conference in July last year. The paper highlights the need for a clear and compassionate strategy focused on prevention and backed by a long-term funding strategy. I am delighted that ADCS will now be directly engaged with the Cabinet Office on the work that is so urgently needed. In November, we published our health paper A healthcare system that works for all children. The paper calls for a re-setting of health in relation to children and young people so that children’s health and wellbeing services are given parity with those of older people. This paper provides a strong platform to support our work with the DfE and across government to secure a shared vision and strategy for children.

These important papers would not have been possible without the work and support of the ADCS policy committees who have continued to push the work of the Association. The six national policy committees cover all aspects of children’s services between them and over the past year were joined by various guests from the DfE, MHGLC, NHS England, PHE, DHSC, the NAO, Social Work England, the EIF, the Youth Custody Service and Ofsted as well as academics. We’re always grateful for new members on the committees which really do give a great opportunity to contribute to important national issues and influence children’s policy and if you aren’t already part of one I encourage you to join.

It would be an understatement to say that the past 12 months have been eventful. Brexit endlessly dominated the headlines before the announcement of a general election in December. I was very disappointed to see so little focus on children and young people in the run-up to the election. This makes it even the more important that we continue to speak out loudly and clearly about what matters the most; children. We must continue to work towards making this a country that works for all children and shine as bright a light as possible on the growing number of children who rely on our support, presenting ever more complex needs, and the perilous state of local government funding. Various reports have confirmed our deep concerns as an Association, possibly the most troubling of which was Sir Michael Marmot’s review ‘10 Years On’ which gave a stark judgement on the widening social and economic inequalities in our society. The impact of a decade of austerity on children is clear for all to see; if austerity truly is going to end, let it end for children first. The work of the Association is never more needed than it is now.

Finally, being the President for 2019/20 has been a great privilege, and I must thank Barnsley Council and my team who have been tremendous this year, they have filled the space I have left behind whilst on ‘ADCS duty’ with grace and competence. Thank you to the incredible ADCS team who have been unfailing in their support and prevented me from falling on my face (as we say up north!); our current immediate Past President Stuart Gallimore and Vice President Jenny Coles; ADCS Board and Council. Thank you all for your generosity, encouragement, advice and support.

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