Making the case for change

The independent review of children’s social care has been framed as a once in a generation opportunity to achieve wide ranging change. I believe this to be true and I agree with its chair, Josh MacAlister, that we need to think bold and broad. All of us who work in children’s services are ambitious for children and families so it’s important that the focus of the review extends beyond services and systems.

The Association continues to champion the need for ‘a country that works for all children,’ although in some respects it feels as though the pandemic has moved us further away from this aim. However, Covid-19 could also prove to be a powerful catalyst for change; a return to the status quo simply isn’t good enough for the growing numbers of children and families who are struggling and the increasingly stretched public services they look to. The review of children’s social care offers a real opportunity to take positive steps towards prioritising children and childhood in post-pandemic recovery work and I hope this will be a substantial feature in the government’s forthcoming levelling up white paper.

We continue to see rising levels of need for help and support in our communities due to an increase in the wider societal determinants of family distress e.g. insecure work. The review’s case for change echoes the findings of past reports and inquiries and underlines issues that ADCS has been raising with government over the last few years. From the value of offering help as early as possible to prevent future harm to the slow pace of change in transforming youth custody.

We need to move beyond diagnostics and focus on identifying and, crucially, implementing solutions that will address the root causes of challenges rather than just symptoms or presenting needs. Not all of this is in the gift of children’s services. Child poverty continues to grow and without a comprehensive strategy to address the causes e.g. benefit freezes as part of welfare reforms, rather than providing free food or period products in schools, this won’t change. More pressingly, the loss of the £20 uplift in Universal Credit next month will push hundreds of thousands of children below the poverty line overnight.

Directors of Children’s Services are place-based system leaders. Each area has its own unique set of challenges, some are relatively new whilst others may go back multiple generations. This context is vital as is the power of place-based partnerships; children’s social care does not hold the answers to all the challenges children and families face. However, with the appropriate funding for multi-agency endeavours underpinned by shared accountability measures we can collectively improve the life chances and outcomes of children, young people and families.

There is always more to do and as leaders of children’s services we are ready to contribute to constructive solutions to the systemic problems which we know exist. The review called for a vision for children’s social care, we think a holistic vision for children and childhoods is needed instead. One that clearly states collective ambitions and is underpinned by a coherent and strategic cross-departmental long-term plan. No one wants to cover old ground but it is important to understand how we got here in order to avoid past mistakes or false starts. Not one single family’s distress would be ameliorated by structural reforms alone. A clear vision, strategy, a focus on cultural change and desired outcomes is also required. I have high hopes that the review and related pandemic recovery efforts will take us closer to realising our collective ambition of creating a country that works for all children.

Charlotte Ramsden, ADCS President and Strategic Director for People, Salford City Council.

This article first appeared in the Local Government Chronicle


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