Working together has been a bit of a theme over the last few...

Working together has been a bit of a theme over the last few months in the Greater London region, a theme we are sure resonates with other regions across the country, and not just in relation to the statutory guidance currently out for consultation.

We, like other regions, have been working hard to put our Regional Adoption Agency arrangements on a firmer footing. (NB We are grateful to the regions who are further advanced with their arrangements for sharing their learning and to James Thomas, former DCS, Newham Borough Council, who led this process for us before taking up his new post as DCS in Tameside).

Across the region we have a shared passion to make the most difference we can for this important cohort of children, and although across the 33 London Boroughs our current arrangements are all very different in terms of structures, volumes of activity, our individual funding and the outcomes we achieve for children we have a shared aim of improving outcomes for children and young people. Our scale also adds complexity: how do 26+ Boroughs combine services to best effect?

The answer has been through: going back to our shared value set; building on our existing sub-regional collaborations; and ensuring that in our combination of a Central Hub, four sub regional spokes and continued child-focussed arrangements at Borough level we use scale to deliver efficiency and to manage adopter supply. We do this without losing our valuable child level local insight which results in careful matching across the range of permanency options for children.

We have also been working together with London Councils and Borough Treasurers to gain a better shared understanding of the financial pressures on children’s services. Our recent survey found common areas of financial pressures including: social work workforce; placements for children in care and care leavers; costs of supporting UASC and families with no recourse to public funds; SEN/High Needs costs and SEN Transport. 27 out of 30 London Boroughs overspent on children’s social care budgets – equating to £3.5m per Borough or 9.6 per cent of aggregate budgets. The challenges of a growing population, the impact of housing pressures and unfunded existing ‘new burdens’ and new ‘new burdens’ will I’m sure resonate widely. It has however brought DCS’s and finance directors into a closer dialogue which we hope through our combined efforts gained greater purchase with decision makers more widely.

Finally, with our London Safeguarding Board partners we have also been considering the opportunities and challenges of the permission to develop new foot-prints for safeguarding childrens boards set out in the Working Together to Safeguard Children consultation document. As a context, London’s NHS clinical commissioning groups are combining so that each new configuration covers six or so Boroughs and our Borough Police commands are moving to arrangements covering two to four Boroughs. So, in this context of change how do we hold onto what we know makes children safer: strong partnerships focussed on the lived experience of our children built on robust mutual challenge and multi-agency quality assurance?

All of the above are works in progress but all reflect the need for systemic responses to the challenges we face as children’s system leaders and to the needs of children and families. Our alliances and partnership working nationally, regionally and locally are key to our meeting these challenges and advocating for the solutions which will make children safer and improve outcomes for the children, young people and families we serve.

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