What a year

I want to take this opportunity to wish everyone a wonderful Christmas and a happy, healthy new year.

As in 2020, the pandemic continues to impact every aspect of our lives, our work and our communities. Multiple lockdowns, various restrictions on how we mix with loved ones and the ongoing disruption to children and young people’s education, with many schools struggling to stay open until the end of term, has made it feel like Groundhog Day.

As we are all aware, the pandemic remains a very real challenge. At the time of writing, urgency is increasing, the government’s national ‘get boosted’ campaign is well underway, face coverings are required in most indoor places and on public transport and the country has been asked to work from home, where possible. We are in what has been described by some as a ‘race against Omicron’ to prevent the NHS from becoming overwhelmed. The spread of the new, more transmissible, variant will have understandably increased people’s anxieties, including the children and families that we serve, however, everything we have learnt since the pandemic started will help us in this new crisis time despite potentially greater staffing challenges than any seen to date. It will be crucial for all partners to pull together in this latest wave.

Even with all the disaster planning in the world it’s very difficult to prepare for a pandemic. That said, the past 20 months have given us plenty of learning and a stronger platform from which to build on in future. In children’s services, we are well versed with new ways of working and continue to improve the virtual practices that are already in place linked to our wider face to face work. We have further strengthened partnership working in our local areas underpinned by a keen focus on children’s safety and welfare. This is most notable in the joint work of local authorities and schools as we’ve worked to keep children in sight, maximise school attendance and to ensure children are fed and supported. I hope the demonstrably important and unique role of the local authority in education is both recognised and reinforced in the forthcoming Education White Paper, expected in spring 2022. It’s absolutely crucial that should any further lockdowns be required, schools are the last places to close, they are a vital piece of the multiagency safeguarding system.

It’s been another busy year for ADCS members and staff alike in which we’ve published several important pieces of work championing the needs of children and young people. This includes, Safeguarding Pressures Phase 7, What is Care For?, our most recent elective home education survey, and a joint policy position paper with the LGA and AYM on the youth justice system. In its own way, each highlighted the impact of the pandemic on children, young people and families and how far we are from being a country that works for all children.

The 2021 spending review provided some helpful additional funding for children and families. However, this is not ‘job done’, we were clear in our submission to the Treasury that we still await a sustainable, long term funding settlement for children’s services and a comprehensive, strategic, long term plan for children. As I said in my inaugural speech, if collectively we don’t get things right for children now, they won’t have the futures they deserve. ADCS members are up for the challenge, we hope the government is too.

In 2022, two long awaited national reviews will report. The first into special educational needs and the other children’s social care. There are some big system level challenges local authorities face in meeting their statutory duties that these reviews must deal with to ensure children, young people and families are safe and supported. Both reviews present a “once in a generation opportunity” to make meaningful and lasting change for the children and young people who need help and support to thrive. To build on what’s working well in the system and to improve things where they aren’t.

As we know, the National Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel has launched a review following the tragic murder of Arthur Libanjo- Hughes which is expected to conclude and report by May 2022. No doubt there will be important learning for us all to take away and we hope any recommendations improve outcomes for children.

I want to end this blog by paying tribute again to Sarah Caton, ADCS Chief Officer, who sadly passed away last week. For anyone that knows Sarah, personally or professionally, you’ll agree with me when I say she had a huge heart and lived life to the fullest. Sarah played an integral role in the work of ADCS over many, many years, she led the ADCS staff team exceptionally well and provided seamless support to the Association, its members and each of its serving presidents. It’s important to take a moment to acknowledge Sarah’s commitment and dedication to making a real difference to children’s lives. She held the threads of our complex system together seamlessly and kept us moving ever forward.

It’s hard to find words that will do you justice Sarah. What a woman you were. We feel incredibly lucky to have been able to call you a colleague and, most importantly, a friend.

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