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Tue, 09 Jul 24 10:00

Time to get on the front foot

What’s in a date like the fourth of July? And I’m not talking about Independence Day, the holiday in the United States commemorating the Declaration of Independence. I’m of course talking about the date the Prime Minister has set for the general election. Thursday 4th July 2024.

In my inaugural speech back in April, I said there are a few things in life we can be certain of during the course of my presidency, and a general election and paying taxes was definitely up there. The collective understanding back then was that we were likely to get a general election in the autumn since that was the prevailing view, so I was describing a presidency of two halves. However, I think all of us who dedicate our lives to the public sector learn to expect the unexpected, and so it now feels more like a presidency of one quarter and then three quarters!

In my last blog I said that a general election gives us reason to be optimistic since, whatever the outcome, this is an opportunity for all political parties to reset and prioritise their position around children, which has been sadly lacking from a policy and legislative context in recent years. In the recent ADCS paper, Childhood Matters, we described being arguably at one of our most pivotal moments in recent years with regard to the nation’s relationship with and commitment to children and young people. We need government to properly invest in children’s futures, all too often the bare minimum is offered rather than long term planning and investment. Just cast your minds back to the support provided to help children recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, which was underfunded and short term, the impact of which is now being seen through increased incidents of emotional and mental health presentations and persistent absence from school.

It feels like society, and critically national government, are always on the backfoot when it comes to children’s needs, their rights and how to improve their outcomes. For example, it’s astonishing that the government only now seems to be waking up to the massive increase we’ve seen in relation to Deprivation of Liberty orders (DoLs). In 2023, 1,368 children were subject to a DoL applications compared to only 103 applications in 2017/18. A National DoLs Court was created in 2022 just to cope with the increased demand. We know that more young people with serious and diverse needs are now entering the care system and some of these children might have previously been helped at in-patient units. However, we also know only too well that a big part of the challenge is the lack of suitable placements and the impact of profiteering in the residential sector. ADCS continues to call for new legislation which prevents profiteering in children’s services and for the introduction of pricing bands and caps. Alongside this we need a national placement strategy, and this will need national rules to intervene and regulate all of those who wish to provide homes for our children in care.

There are of course political choices for whichever government holds power after the 4th July. Surely, it’s time to get on the front foot and put children at the top of the agenda.

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