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Cabinet Office consultation on reforming ethnicity facts and...

ADCS response to Cabinet Office consultation on reforming ethnicity facts and figures

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LPS Public Consultation - Joint ADASS, ADCS and LGA Response

Liberty Protection Safeguards Public Consultation - Joint Response on behalf of ADASS, ADCS and the LGA

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Comment: Ofsted children’s social care dataset

Commenting on Ofsted’s annual children’s social care data 2022 John Pearce, ADCS Vice President, said:

“Ofsted’s latest annual children’s social care data highlights the continued challenges facing local authorities when trying to find placements for children in our care. While the number of children’s homes has increased this does not necessarily increase overall capacity as the number of children living in individual homes is reducing with more solo or low occupancy homes. As a result need continues to outstrip supply so finding the right placement for a child, at the right time, as close to home as possible is increasingly difficult. The uneven distribution of homes across the country is an added challenge with homes frequently opening up where housing is cheaper not where they’re needed most, as is the unwillingness of some providers to take children with any level of complexity for fear of the impact on their Ofsted rating. This can mean children and young people with complex needs, who are equally deserving of our love, care and support, are placed miles away from their friends, families and communities or in a home on their own and sometimes in unregulated provision. This is not in the best interests of children, and it has a knock-on effect on the availability of homes and local authority budgets. It’s a vicious cycle.

“Placement sufficiency has long been an issue for local authorities, and we face similar challenges when trying to find placements in secure children’s homes for a small but extremely vulnerable cohort of children and young people. These children are in extreme distress and placements are often needed at short notice. As the data shows there are only 13 secure children’s homes in England, no provision in some parts of the country at all, demand for beds has grown and therefore long distances are frequently involved. There has also been an increase in young people with substantial mental health needs within this group which may be linked to the significant decrease in Tier 4 Mental Health bed provision for young people. Where a secure placement cannot be found or the young person’s needs are so severe they are unable to live with other children, a single bedded children’s home has become the only option. The rise in single bedded children’s homes is reflective of the level of complexity of need many children are experiencing but it is also a consequence of the need to ‘match’ children when they are living in a home together. While getting the balance of young people in a home is critical, so is ensuring that children and young people have the opportunity to develop and nourish positive peer relationships as this is in their best interests. We need to fundamentally rethink this issue in conjunction with government, Ofsted and our key partners.”

ENDS


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“Now is a once in a generation opportunity”

“Now is a once in a generation opportunity on multiple fronts to realise the change that is needed to make the whole system…better serve those it is designed for; children, young people and their families”, the President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, Steve Crocker, said in a speech to the ADCS Annual Conference 2022.

Steve Crocker used his speech to look ahead towards a critical time for children’s services following the publication of the independent review of children’s social care, the Schools White Paper and the SEND and Alternative Provision (AP) Green Paper. “We must seize the moment and embrace the opportunity but not curtail our ambitions, there are areas where we must go further and faster.”

Steve Crocker reiterated his call for a national review of children’s mental health services. Directors of children’s services are responsible for all children in their area and it is those children who “almost always point to mental health and wellbeing as their biggest priority, so I am duty bound to raise it on their behalf.” The way the system is currently designed “does not work for children in acute distress”. Despite support from all sectors, we are yet to see action from the NHS. “It feels like the crisis in children’s mental health services continues to languish in the too difficult pile and that simply isn’t good enough for our children.”

On the SEND Review

“ADCS welcomed the publication of the SEND and AP Green Paper and it is reassuring to see inclusivity at the heart of these plans…Many aspects of the Green Paper are to be welcomed, including the focus on strengthening collaboration and accountability across all partners in the system, clarifying their roles and responsibilities, and creating a less adversarial, more child-centred system, one based on children’s needs…The piece of the jigsaw that’s missing for me is any mention of the financial black hole that is high needs deficits, with most recent estimates suggesting this could reach £2.4bn by March 2025…Since 2014, we have seen a near doubling of children with special educational needs, we need to reflect on why this is and what this says about us as a country. The costs associated with the current SEND system are baked in for years to come, this reality must be addressed alongside the reform programme.”

On the Schools White Paper

“We can’t talk about the SEND and AP Green Paper without mentioning the Schools White Paper in the same breath…The White Paper is about much more than structural reform and we must keep our eye on the other prizes here; the realignment of responsibilities with powers and ensuring the right accountabilities in the system which support the drive for inclusion. I am genuinely hopeful that the measures set out will take us towards a more coherent education system that works for all children, whatever their needs, wherever they live… the acid test for a ‘good’ school should be that it is good for its most vulnerable pupils.”

On the Care Review

“We, the people in this room, didn’t design the current system and we are not the custodians of it, on the contrary, we are probably the first to tell you where it doesn’t work! ADCS contributed to the Review, and it is reassuring that as sector experts, we have been listened to. And, while we do not agree with everything in it… it creates a platform and a clear framework for realising change…where significant, structural change is proposed we have to carefully test and try these proposals…We can’t repeat the mistakes of the past in implementing well intentioned policy without carefully testing the consequences and then amending policy to get it right – and getting it right for children is what we are all interested in… ADCS is committed to working with government on the reform programme – we are keen to maintain the momentum and get things moving quickly.”

On funding

“The financial realism set out in the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care is welcome and gives an indication of how much is needed to reset the system and get it to a place where significant reform can land…Year on year we are stripping services back to fit the shrinking financial envelope rather than developing to meet the ever changing needs that are present in our communities. This is just storing up problems for the future and we are teetering on a financial cliff edge…Here are some quick wins that ADCS would wish to see brought forward at pace: The government could take swift action to address the challenges around social work agencies; update the local authority funding formula prior to the next spending review; address costs of home to school transport; introduce kinship leave to match adoption leave; And while it’s not a quick win, driving diversity in our own leadership must be a priority.”

On Ukraine

“The Homes for Ukraine and family schemes were operationalised in short order – quite rightly so. There are though still issues to iron out…and make sure that we have all of the right safeguards for children in place…ADCS has been calling for the Home Office and other government departments to come together to develop a holistic view of the various resettlement schemes and the cumulative impact on place…so we can ensure parity in the treatment and support we offer anyone fleeing persecution, no matter where they come from.”

ENDS

Notes to editors:

• The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) Ltd is the professional leadership association for Directors of Children’s Services and their senior management teams in England

The full speech can be found on www.adcs.org.uk


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ADCS President Conference Speech 2022

​ADCS President, Steve Crocker, made his keynote speech to the ADCS Annual Conference 2022 on 7 July 2022


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Comment: National Age Assessment Board

Steve Crocker, ADCS President, said:

“Unaccompanied asylum seeking children are vulnerable, they arrive here in search of safety and deserve our compassion, help and support. However, there are too many cases where children are wrongly assessed as adults and, therefore, children do not always get the support they are entitled to. Conducting age assessments is complex work requiring specialist skills and is frequently the subject of legal challenge which local authorities are dealing with alone. The increasing numbers of children arriving in this country is placing pressure on our staff who are carrying out these checks and so the establishment of a new National Age Assessment Board (NAAB) will hopefully create some additional capacity in the system once it is up and running. A coordinated national approach should also help us capture best practice. Engagement with gateway local authorities will be key here as they have a lot of expertise in this area. However, we await further information from government about how the NAAB will link with excellent social work practice taking place in local authorities. It is important that the NAAB is driven by a child-centric approach and decisions are timely; whilst the age of an individual is unknown they should be supported and accommodated as a child. The care and best interests of asylum seeking children must be at the heart of all decisions made.”

ENDS


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ADCS response: Homes for Ukraine scheme extended to under 18s

Commenting on the written ministerial statement confirming that the Homes for Ukraine scheme will be extended to some unaccompanied children, Steve Crocker, ADCS President, said:

“The continuing war in Ukraine is devastating the lives of children and families, many of whom have been forced to leave everything they know behind in search of safety and protection. Local authorities have welcomed many Ukrainians into their communities via the Family Visa and the Homes for Ukraine schemes and are helping them settle in and access essential services, such as GPs, childcare, and school places.

“We have been involved in ongoing conversations with government, LGA, Solace and others, about how to open a safe route to the UK for unaccompanied children and the additional safeguards that will be needed, over and above those already required as part of the Homes for Ukraine scheme. The government has, today, confirmed that the Homes for Ukraine scheme will be expanded to under 18s who have already applied to the scheme but are not travelling with a parent or legal guardian. Local authorities urgently need robust guidance, and sufficient funding, to support us to keep children safe and to meet their needs, we are disappointed that this was not published as this announcement was made. We eagerly await the guidance to understand better what the expectations are for local authorities.

“Local authorities want to play our part in this humanitarian crisis, but we need government’s support with this. There are outstanding issues with the two schemes in place to welcome Ukrainian refugees which need to be quickly resolved, including the disparity in funding between the two schemes. To keep children safe and to ensure their immediate and future needs can be met, it is vital that all the necessary checks are completed prior to visas being issued and that funding is forthcoming before checks are undertaken. Should the situation arise where a child’s placement breaks down, the legal status of those children and the role of the local authority needs to be clearly set out in guidance. Furthermore, there are currently several schemes in place to welcome refugees and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children into the UK, and so it will be important for government to consider these schemes together to understand the pressures on the system as a whole and to ensure equity between the different schemes.”

ENDS


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Eligibility for free early education entitlement for...

A joint submission from ADCS, LGA and the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) Network to the consultation on eligibility for the free early education entitlement for two-year-olds from families with no recourse to public funds.


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Comment: social worker caseloads and LA budget cuts

Steve Crocker, ADCS President, said:

“Recent government statistics on the children’s social work workforce show that the average number of caseloads has reduced slightly over recent years and was at 16.3 in 2021, however, this is not true for everyone, everywhere. It is crucial that caseloads are manageable and where they are not, good managers should challenge upwards. Social workers do incredibly important work on behalf of us all; if they are overwhelmed by their work this will have an impact on their mental health and wellbeing and on their work with children and families too. That said, there is no ‘right’ number of caseloads, cases vary in their complexity, therefore it is difficult to look at the number of caseloads in isolation. Generally, lower caseloads are better as this enables social workers to work more intensively alongside children and families to address their needs more effectively. That said, when allocating cases, we need to consider things like complexity, risk and the experience of the social worker too. We know what is needed to secure the very best outcomes for children and families - we need enough high quality social workers to support children and families who need it and we need enough funding from national government to invest in both child protection work and helping children at the earliest possible opportunity when we know we can make the biggest difference to them. However, there are some very practical constraints on local authorities in a context where need for help and support is increasing, we struggle to recruit and retain enough social workers nationally and after a decade of year on year cuts to local authority budgets. An independent review of children’s social care is due to report soon, and we are hopeful it will include recommendations that meaningfully address the workforce sufficiency and funding issues we currently face.”

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Comment: Supporting Families Programme

Steve Crocker, ADCS President, said:

“Local authorities are committed to supporting children and families as early as possible. There is no doubt that the earlier we provide support to help them overcome the issues they face, the less impact these challenges will have on their lives but also on society as a whole. The previous Spending Review gave us greater clarity until 2025 around this vital line of funding which forms part of our preventative offer to local communities.

“For a long time the programme was designed to be a separate programme but it has now become more integrated into our work and the latest phase of the programme promises to tackle barriers and to create momentum and change. As the programme evolves with each funding round there is a growing emphasis on inclusion and these are welcome developments. We hope that the programme continues to develop and marks the beginning of a long-term commitment by government. One that has at its heart early help, relationship-based practice and a holistic focus on a child’s lived experience, within their family and within their community which would undoubtedly change lives.

“The value of early help and preventative services cannot be overstated, yet even before the pandemic a decade of austerity has meant that we are having to make tough decisions about how funding is allocated. The continuation of the Supporting Families programme is a welcome step but we need a greater national focus on working with children and families who are at risk of poor outcomes at the earliest possible stage. This requires adequate long-term national investment to allow us to provide this vital support where it is needed.”

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ADCS response: Queen’s Speech 2022

Steve Crocker, ADCS President, said:

“Children should be at the top of the government’s agenda. However, for years Brexit and more recently the pandemic has dominated government’s time, attention, and its legislative programmes. The focus on children, children’s rights and children’s services was limited in the Queen’s speech, therefore, some urgent issues remain unaddressed.

“We welcome the government’s ambition to level up society, however, this will ring hollow without investment in children, the full range of services they rely on and the issues many of them face - in particular early help and family support services that can prevent problems becoming more serious. Today, millions of children live in poverty, this is damaging the lives and life chances. Rising food and energy costs will only make things harder for many children and their families. Now more than ever we need a child poverty reduction strategy, England is the only country in the UK without one.

“We are pleased education was a focus of today’s Queen’s speech. The Schools Bill reaffirms many commitments already made by the government, including for all schools to be part of a strong, multi academy trust, and a register of children not in school. A register in and of itself will not keep children safe, but it is an important step in helping us to find out the number of children being educated other than at school and identifying children who are vulnerable to harm. In addition to this, a duty will be placed on local authorities to support home schooling families, any such duty would need to be fully funded and reflect the size of this growing cohort. Catering to the needs of all learners and inclusivity must be at the heart of the government’s new education reforms if all children are to benefit, whatever their needs, wherever they live. We look forward to working with government and others as the Bill progresses.

“Most mental health problems begin in childhood so ensuring children get the right help and support at the earliest opportunity is crucial. For too long children have been facing long waits to access help and support with many being told they are not ill enough, or too ill to access local services. Furthermore, the pandemic has created a tidal wave of need for adequate mental health support for children. We await further detail on the draft Mental Health Bill, at present it is unclear whether the draft Bill will include children and young people’s mental health services – a system which is ripe for review.”

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Comment: secure welfare placements

Steve Crocker, ADCS President, said:

“This desperate situation once again highlights the dearth of suitable placements to meet the needs of our most vulnerable children and young people at times of extreme crisis or distress. Many local authorities report major difficulties in sourcing a secure children’s home placement; despite local authorities only making a handful of these placements a year, demand for beds far outstrips supply. Local authorities can then have no other option but to create a highly bespoke placement in the community with intensive wrap around support, while suitable alternatives are sought, costing tens of thousands of pounds per week. Often, community based registered providers can be reluctant to accept children into their care due the levels of need and risk that they can present. In the Spending Review 2021 there was some welcome investment in secure children’s homes, but it will take time for vulnerable children and local authorities to feel the benefits of this. ADCS hopes that the independent review of children’s social care’s final report will include meaningful solutions to the placement shortage crisis we are currently facing, as will the government’s response.”

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ADCS response CMA children’s social care market study

ADCS response to the Competition and Markets Authority children’s social care market study

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Comment on the importance of anti-racist and anti-discriminatory...

Steve Crocker, ADCS President, said:

“A child’s place of learning should be a safe place where children feel comfortable, secure and protected, and where children’s rights are protected and safeguarded. Where this goes wrong, the repercussions for children, their families and the wider community can be devastating.

“As directors of children’s services, it is our role to work closely with multi-agency partners who work with or interact with children and young people and to hold them to account when behaviours fall short of what is expected. Where there have been failings, a commitment to learning is key if we are to adequately safeguard and protect all children. Children deserve nothing less.

“There are lessons from practice which help us to develop and influence change for the better but let us be clear, racism and discrimination have no place in our practice, our workplaces or communities and will not be tolerated. All leaders across public services have a role to play in shining a light on social injustices faced by children. We know that children from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds are overrepresented in the youth justice and care systems and in school exclusions. We have suggested that this disproportionality be explored in detail by the independent review of children’s social care as a first step to addressing it. We must do more as a sector and as a society to stand up for change, to challenge ourselves and each other and to ensure anti-racist and anti-discriminatory practice is at the heart of our work with children and young people if we are to achieve a fairer, more tolerant society.”

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ADCS President’s Inaugural Speech 2022

​On 6 April 2022 Steve Crocker made his inaugural Presidential Speech at the Museum of London

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ADCS response: SEND and alternative provision green paper

Charlotte Ramsden, ADCS President, said:

“We welcome the long-awaited publication of the SEND review and the accompanying green paper. The paper’s emphasis on meeting the needs of children in mainstream education settings, with targeted support where needed, and where this isn’t possible in high quality specialist provision is welcome. Bringing greater consistency in how children’s needs are assessed and met by the SEND system will be helpful and we are pleased the government is committed to creating a new SEND and alternative provision system where every child and young person can access the right support, at the right time and in the right place. We are keen to work with government and others including parents, health partners and schools on the new national SEND standards as they develop and see a shift towards a more inclusive education system which ADCS has long called for.

“The paper rightly acknowledges that the current SEND system is not working for many children. The 2014 reforms were ambitious, rightly raising expectations and extending support up to 25 years, but they have not delivered the intended outcomes. Despite record levels of spending there is growing frustration and dissatisfaction with how the reforms are working on the ground. The support and services children with additional needs receive has a huge impact on them and their families, all stakeholders must work together, in partnership with parents, so that collectively we are better able to meet the needs of children and young people now and help prepare them for an independent adult life in the future. So, supporting a successful transition to adulthood must be a key feature of the new national standards.

“Many aspects of the green paper are to be welcomed including those focussing on strengthening collaboration and accountability across all partners in the system and clarifying their roles and responsibilities, creating a less adversarial, more child centred system based on children’s needs and inclusion. Improving the experiences and outcomes of children and young people with SEND is a joint endeavour and so we welcome the strengthened role and commitments of health partners as outlined.

“We are pleased the green paper acknowledges the need to create a financially sustainable system which provides value for children in terms of their outcomes and experiences, and for the taxpayer. The additional funding being made available to support the proposals is welcome, but with high needs budget deficits rising, threatening the financial sustainability of some local authorities there is still not enough money in the current system to meet the level of need being seen. We recognise that reforms won’t happen overnight, but the current system has a high level of cost baked into it for the foreseeable future which is placing unsustainable pressure on local authorities.

“It will take time to work through the detail of the proposals outlined in the green paper, and to consider the implications for local authorities and, most importantly, for children and young people. The Association will be responding to the consultation in due course once we have gathered the views of our members and will work constructively with partners to implement these necessary changes.”

Ends


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Comment: Mental health of children in care survey

Commenting on a survey on the mental health of children in care in England in 2020 and 2021 Charlotte Ramsden, ADCS President, said:

“We welcome the study’s focus on the mental health of children in care, and the factors associated with improved mental health outcomes in this cohort. These include positive relationships with friends, carers and social workers and being satisfied with the frequency of contact with social workers. Living with a relative or sibling, spending less time on screens and not being excluded from school were also seen to be positive factors. The forthcoming Schools White Paper must have inclusion at its heart, not only is this important for the mental health of children in care but for all children.

“There are some important messages in this report, captured through the surveys of children and young people, I’m sure the findings will be of interest to all those working with and supporting children in care. While the impact of successive lockdowns and ensuing restrictions on children and young people will have varied, we cannot ignore that there is a rising tide of poor mental health amongst children and young people. Most mental health problems begin in childhood so ensuring children get the right help and support at the earliest opportunity is crucial. Over the years much focus has been placed on improving mental health support for children and young people but too many children continue to face long waits to access appropriate help and accessing mental health support for children has long been an issue for children in care - we must do better for them.

“Local authorities are absolutely committed to finding stable, loving homes for the children in our care and recruiting and retaining enough social workers so that we can meet children’s needs, but we need government to support us with this via a nationally led and funded campaign to encourage more social workers into the profession and to want to stay.”

ENDS


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ADCS response: Spring Statement 2022

Charlotte Ramsden, ADCS President, said:

“The additional funding for the Household Support Fund announced today is welcome, however, many children and families are facing a perfect storm of rising food, fuel and energy prices alongside increasing tax bills which will place enormous pressure on households and on living standards. The worsening cost of living crisis will trap and pull more children and families into poverty which we know constrains people’s opportunities and damages children’s life chances. There is clear evidence that one of the human costs of poverty is rising demand for children’s social care. While we recognise public finances are under huge strain it is a false economy not to fund children’s services properly and sustainably so that we can help children and families at the earliest opportunity, before their problems escalate. Furthermore, it makes no sense that England continues to be the only country in the UK without a child poverty reduction strategy.”

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Comment: referrals to children’s social care

Sara Tough, Chair of the ADCS Families, Communities and Young People Policy Committee, said:

“Keeping children safe from harm is the highest priority for all local authorities and we work in partnership with colleagues in schools, health services, the police, and others to do this. School staff see children nearly every day and have a key role in the multiagency response to safeguarding children, it is important that they receive adequate training and support to help them with this. There are very clear thresholds set out in legislation for how and when to intervene in family life, and that is right. Not all referrals to children’s social care will result in further activity, such as a child protection plan. As the FOI findings show, some referrals result in ‘no further action’ when thresholds for further activity have not been met. This means ‘no statutory social work intervention required’ not that there was no support offered. Before a decision is made every case will be assessed, discussed, and investigated to ensure all the evidence available at the time has been examined to ascertain whether concerns are substantiated.”

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Comment: OCC report on attendance data

Charlotte Ramsden, ADCS President, said:

“Schools play an important role in keeping children safe alongside helping them develop academically, socially, and emotionally. We share concerns that while most children are in school every day there is a worrying number of children who are not. Understanding the reasons for this and working with children and their families to get them back into education when they should be is a priority for all local authorities.

“Local authorities are committed to working in partnership with all schools and others to maximise attendance, to tackle persistent absence and remove any barriers to attending school. We saw strong examples of partnership working between local authorities and schools during the pandemic and this has become embedded in many areas. There is an opportunity in the forthcoming Schools White Paper to be clear on the central role local authorities have in the education system and to create an education system with inclusion at its heart.

“When children aren’t in school, for whatever reason, we want to know where they are and that they are safe. If they are being educated elsewhere, at home or otherwise, we want to know that it’s a suitable environment and offer support if needed. However, we can only do this with the fullest picture possible of who is and is not in school, yet there are gaps in our understanding of this. The government has taken an important step by announcing its intention to create a register of children educated at home but there are other actions it could take to help us meet our statutory duties, such as giving local authorities the powers to compel a school to admit a child to avoid learners waiting weeks for a school place to become available. After two years of disruption to children’s lives and their education we owe it to them to make attendance everybody’s business, children’s life chances are at stake.

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Comment: The Future of Children’s Social Care report

Commenting on the new report Charlotte Ramsden, ADCS President, said:

“This report is a helpful contribution to the current conversations about the changes that are needed to achieve the best outcomes for children and families. It reiterates several important issues which ADCS has been raising with government for some time, such as increasing levels of demand set against a decade of reductions to local authority budgets. We agree with the need for a sustainable, long term funding settlement for children’s services, a greater focus on early help and prevention and a national focus on recruiting and retaining foster carers.

“Analysis in the report shows that if we continue as we are the number of children in care will significantly increase, as will the financial, and human, costs associated with this. Although care can be the right thing for some children, we should be doing all we can to support families to stay together safely, in line with the Children Act 1989. Government should support us in this by ensuring we have appropriate resources to keep children safe from harm and to provide targeted early help at the earliest opportunity. The report describes a blueprint for change, the role of local authorities, central government, and others in enabling this, and the benefits it could offer if adopted across the country which I’m sure will be of interest to the sector as debates around the future of the children’s social care system continue. We now need to see the government and the national review of children’s social care provide meaningful solutions so that we can build a care system that works for all children.”

ENDS


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Comment on the 2014 SEND reforms

Charlotte Ramsden, ADCS President, said:

“The SEND reforms in 2014 were rightly ambitious, raising expectations and extending support from birth to 25 years, yet they are not delivering the intended outcomes for children. Despite record levels of spend there is growing frustration and high levels of parental dissatisfaction. I’m sure all stakeholders would agree we cannot go on as we are. Reform is long overdue; the system in its current form has resulted in perverse incentives at odds with inclusion in mainstream schools towards specialist provision and unsustainable levels of demand for education, health and care plans, resulting in significant high needs funding deficits, which could threaten the financial stability of local authorities. Additional funding alone cannot solve the fundamental systemic challenges we now face in meeting our statutory duties. The national reviews of the SEND and children’s social care systems and the forthcoming Education White Paper provide opportunities for us to collectively consider how we best support children and young people with additional needs and disabilities to thrive. Creating an inclusive mainstream education system that meets the needs of all learners is an important part of this, as is creating a partnership system that is focussed on the holistic needs of children and young people, to enable them to attend the most appropriate setting, as close to their home and community as possible, while also supporting them to maximise their independence and be ready for a high-quality adult life.”

ENDS


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ADCS response: Action for Children report on early help

Responding to the report Too Little, Too Late: Early help and Early Intervention Spending in England Matt Dunkley, Chair of the ADCS Resources and Sustainability Policy Committee, said:

“This report outlines the difficult financial position local authorities are in and the value of early help services. There is no doubt that the earlier we work with children and families to help them overcome the issues they face, the less impact these challenges will have on their lives but also on society as a whole. The problem is there is currently not enough funding in the system to enable this approach in all local authorities. For years, ADCS and others in the sector have called for long-term funding in early help and preventative services. The investment in Family Hubs is a positive step, and will build upon some of the important work that local authorities are already doing, but there is clearly a long way to go. Reduced funding for local authorities alongside increased need for our help and support has led to tough decisions about scaling back services.

“Services most at risk include those that tackle the root causes of the problems children and families face before they escalate. Before the pandemic, children’s services were dangerously close to becoming a ‘blue light service’ but we are now seeing greater complexity of need being presented by children and families. As the cost of living increases, more people will be pushed into poverty and more children and families will need our support. All local authorities recognise the benefits of early help and intervention, we want to support families earlier to improve their outcomes and prevent them from reaching crisis point, but we need more financial support from government to do so. For the Treasury, long term, equitable national investment in early help for all local authorities is not only a smart and efficient economic policy, but also the right thing to do. Children and families cannot, and should not, wait any longer, their life chances depend on it.”

ENDS


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Levelling up

Early this year the government is set to publish its long awaited Levelling Up White Paper - it may even be published by the time you read this. Levelling up will mean many things to different people and we of course will have our own priority areas. As a Director of Children’s Services, I see first-hand the impact of poverty and inequality on children and their outcomes. The Levelling Up White Paper presents an ideal opportunity to address these issues which will have only been worsened by the pandemic.

For children’s services, levelling up must involve investment in the variety of services that support children but also investment in children and families themselves. Over 4 million children in the UK are currently living in poverty, 75% of whom in working families. If we are to give these children the best start in life, we need to begin with tackling the causes of child poverty and be ambitious for them. During the early stages of the pandemic, the government recognised and responded to some of the obstacles that children living in poverty face when schools were closed to all but a small number. Laptops were ordered and children were given access to free broadband to help them learn at home. The announcements were welcomed at the time, but it is disappointing that these actions were not built upon with other more tangible initiatives to try and tackle the rising number of children living in poverty. I believe that the levelling up agenda provides us with the opportunity to do just that, but this relies on government committing to developing a cross-departmental strategy to reduce and then end child poverty. It is, of course, the responsibility of all government departments to drive levelling up, not just the department that is leading the white paper.

The greatest opportunities to make a real and tangible difference to children’s outcomes occur when they are very young. We know that growing up experiencing material hardship such as food insecurity and poor-quality housing can have a lifelong impact on health and development. Investment in the government’s flagship free childcare policy has reached £3.5 billion in each of the past three years, yet the rates paid to providers do not guarantee quality and emerging evidence suggests the 30-hour offer may in fact entrench disadvantage by displacing children from non-working families who qualify for fewer hours. This ongoing focus on childcare rather than developing high quality early education does seem somewhat at odds with the social mobility agenda. We need to work with children and families who are at risk of poor outcomes at the earliest possible stage, yet our spending and interventions remain skewed towards reactive services despite evidence that early help and support can improve children’s health, development and life chances.

Within local authority children’s services there is also much we can do. But without the funding to intervene early and support children before problems escalate, we have very little chance to reverse these trends. Before the pandemic, a decade of austerity left local government funding in a parlous state and children’s services teetering on the edge of becoming a ‘blue light’ service. Tough decisions have had to be made about how funding is allocated and often the services most at risk are those addressing the root causes of problems children and their families face before they reach crisis point. There is also a role for health services who have a vital role in ensuring better access to services at the earliest point. Poor mental health can have a devastating and lifelong impact on children and young people, yet all too often children experience difficulties in accessing services, wait months for support and reach crisis point in the process.

This does nothing to reduce future demand, is more expensive in the long term and leads to poorer outcomes. The government must invest in the type of preventative services that reduce demand and improve lives. Schools, early years and further education settings are essential parts of the preventative agenda and during the pandemic demonstrated the potential for future ways of working and the impact we have when working in flexible partnership.

The pandemic adds a new sense of urgency to the growing calls for concerted action on child poverty and to level up society. The efforts of a whole host of campaigners and groups have kept this issue high on the agenda and as we continue to collectively focus on recovery, this offers the government an opportunity to turbo charge its levelling up efforts. Whilst education is of course important, the social and emotional conditions that support children to engage in learning and thrive must also be in place.

Charlotte Ramsden, ADCS President 21/22

This column first appeared in the MJ


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Levelling up

Early this year the government is set to publish its long awaited Levelling Up White Paper - it may even be published by the time you read this. Levelling up will mean many things to different people and we of course will have our own priority areas. As a Director of Children’s Services, I see first-hand the impact of poverty and inequality on children and their outcomes. The Levelling Up White Paper presents an ideal opportunity to address these issues which will have only been worsened by the pandemic.

For children’s services, levelling up must involve investment in the variety of services that support children but also investment in children and families themselves. Over 4 million children in the UK are currently living in poverty, 75% of whom in working families. If we are to give these children the best start in life, we need to begin with tackling the causes of child poverty and be ambitious for them. During the early stages of the pandemic, the government recognised and responded to some of the obstacles that children living in poverty face when schools were closed to all but a small number. Laptops were ordered and children were given access to free broadband to help them learn at home. The announcements were welcomed at the time, but it is disappointing that these actions were not built upon with other more tangible initiatives to try and tackle the rising number of children living in poverty. I believe that the levelling up agenda provides us with the opportunity to do just that, but this relies on government committing to developing a cross-departmental strategy to reduce and then end child poverty. It is, of course, the responsibility of all government departments to drive levelling up, not just the department that is leading the white paper.

The greatest opportunities to make a real and tangible difference to children’s outcomes occur when they are very young. We know that growing up experiencing material hardship such as food insecurity and poor-quality housing can have a lifelong impact on health and development. Investment in the government’s flagship free childcare policy has reached £3.5 billion in each of the past three years, yet the rates paid to providers do not guarantee quality and emerging evidence suggests the 30-hour offer may in fact entrench disadvantage by displacing children from non-working families who qualify for fewer hours. This ongoing focus on childcare rather than developing high quality early education does seem somewhat at odds with the social mobility agenda. We need to work with children and families who are at risk of poor outcomes at the earliest possible stage, yet our spending and interventions remain skewed towards reactive services despite evidence that early help and support can improve children’s health, development and life chances.

Within local authority children’s services there is also much we can do. But without the funding to intervene early and support children before problems escalate, we have very little chance to reverse these trends. Before the pandemic, a decade of austerity left local government funding in a parlous state and children’s services teetering on the edge of becoming a ‘blue light’ service. Tough decisions have had to be made about how funding is allocated and often the services most at risk are those addressing the root causes of problems children and their families face before they reach crisis point. There is also a role for health services who have a vital role in ensuring better access to services at the earliest point. Poor mental health can have a devastating and lifelong impact on children and young people, yet all too often children experience difficulties in accessing services, wait months for support and reach crisis point in the process.

This does nothing to reduce future demand, is more expensive in the long term and leads to poorer outcomes. The government must invest in the type of preventative services that reduce demand and improve lives. Schools, early years and further education settings are essential parts of the preventative agenda and during the pandemic demonstrated the potential for future ways of working and the impact we have when working in flexible partnership.

The pandemic adds a new sense of urgency to the growing calls for concerted action on child poverty and to level up society. The efforts of a whole host of campaigners and groups have kept this issue high on the agenda and as we continue to collectively focus on recovery, this offers the government an opportunity to turbo charge its levelling up efforts. Whilst education is of course important, the social and emotional conditions that support children to engage in learning and thrive must also be in place.

Charlotte Ramsden, ADCS President 21/22

Words: 781


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Comment: international placements for children in care

Commenting on FOI request findings on the use of international placements for children in care, Sara Tough, Chair of the ADCS Families, Communities and Young People Policy Committee, said:

“Child protection cases with an international element are complex, not least because countries will have their own child protection systems and processes. Obtaining assessments for family members that meet the requirements of key tests in British law can be both difficult and time consuming, however, this should not prevent local authorities from exploring prospective carers as an option when this is in the best interests of the child. Positively, the report notes that more children in care had family abroad explored as potential carers in 2018-2020 than in 2015-2017, which shows local authorities continue to consider international placements as an option, even in the context of a global health crisis. As with other care proceedings we are involved in, the ultimate test is making sure children’s needs can be met, now and in the future. It is also important, where possible, to involve children and young people in decisions about their lives, children may not want to move away from the places and people they know and love.”

ENDS


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ADCS response: Levelling Up White Paper

Commenting on the publication of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities White Paper, ADCS President, Charlotte Ramsden, said:

“This White Paper is, according to the Secretary of State, about ending ‘historic injustice’. However, we are sorely disappointed that the Paper has failed to address one of the biggest historic injustices blighting the lives and life chances of millions of children today – rising child and family poverty. This appears to be a golden opportunity missed. Coordinated, cross government action to reduce and, ultimately, end child and family poverty cannot wait.

“Levelling up must start with investment in our children and young people so we welcome the White Paper’s focus on improving education and skills, including illiteracy and innumeracy rates amongst children. Ensuring children attend good schools and have these basic life skills is important but so too is ensuring that all children and their families can afford the basics, such as food, heating and a roof over their heads. Without this how can we expect children to be able to learn and thrive?

“Investment in infrastructure, broadband and housing in the areas highlighted in the Paper will help to develop some communities in which children and young people live and therefore make a difference to them, but we are clear that levelling up must go beyond this. We must be ambitious for all children so that their life chances are not impacted by where they grow up.

“To truly level up society and achieve a country that works for all children in a post-Covid world, we need long-term strategies to urgently close the gaps in education, health and poverty.”

ENDS


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Comment on OCC report: Children’s Social Care – putting...

Commenting on the Children’s Commissioner’s report, ADCS Vice President Steve Crocker said:

“This latest report by the Children’s Commissioner raises a number of important issues such as the importance of consistent, strong relationships for children and young people, the need for greater a focus on children in the health system, and formalising the role of schools in safeguarding arrangements to name just a few.

“It includes recommendations for both local and national government around placement sufficiency and stability. Ensuring that children in care have a secure, consistent and caring home to stay in is one of the highest priorities for all local authorities. In some cases, moving homes can be positive, necessary and in the best interests of the child in question, or for other children in the same place. Unfortunately, finding the right placement, at the right time and in the best location for a growing number of children in our care is becoming increasingly difficult because we face a national shortage of placements of all types. The work being carried out by the Care Review and the Competition and Markets Authority will be crucial in the enabling local authorities to meet their sufficiency duties in future. The DfE’s recent announcement of new investment in both open and secure children’s homes as well as registration changes by Ofsted will also help ease these challenges down the line.

“Regulatory reform, greater access to mental health provision, investment in the workforce, and moves to address profit making is needed in both the short and longer term. We also need an urgent discussion about the right response to children and young people with very complex and overlapping health, education and social care needs, we believe a wholly new and much more therapeutic approach is needed. We also support the Commissioner’s calls for the DfE to play a greater role in securing sufficiency in secure children’s homes.”

ENDS


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Use of interim DCSs

Charlotte Ramsden, President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), said:

“Directors of children’s services carry huge responsibilities on behalf of their local communities. Our statutory role means that we are responsible for children in care, safeguarding and child protection, supporting children and young people with special educational needs and overseeing school admissions as well as managing multi-million-pound budgets and thousands of members of staff. One person cannot achieve this alone, it is a huge team effort, requiring the backing and support of the authority’s wider senior management team, as well as political leaders. It also requires a complex multi-agency system, including partners such as the police and health colleagues, to work well together because safeguarding children is everyone’s business.

“These roles can be hard to fill and the salaries of directors need to be considered within the context of comparable senior officers in other parts of local government, the health service and education. Interim leaders can be employed to cover gaps whilst recruitment takes place for a permanent director or to take on a planned role as part of improvement work, which is often for an agreed period, meaning several changes in a short timescale. Improvement work is hard, and it takes a long time, working alongside Ofsted, government departments and local political leaders. This is a much wider and more complex issue than the role and effectiveness of the director alone.”


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Comment on financial incentives paid to foster carers by local...

Edwina Grant OBE, Chair of the ADCS Health, Care and Additional Needs Policy Committee, said:

“We need many more carers to provide loving, stable homes for a growing number of children and young people in our care. Despite the current pressure on budgets, local authorities continue to invest in recruitment campaigns to encourage people to open their hearts and homes to children who need it. Some local authorities may also offer financial incentives to widen their local pool of carers, alongside other benefits such as leisure passes. The most important thing to consider is whether we have enough high quality carers who are motivated by improving children’s lives. The process for approving foster carers is rigorous and these processes are regularly reviewed. All of the foster carers I speak to want to foster so they can change a child’s life.

“The practice of offering financial incentives is increasingly becoming the norm and will overtime boost in-house provision and reduce costs in the longer term, as such it’s likely that more local areas will follow suit. These decisions are taken locally and we believe it would be unhelpful to introduce a national level of incentive fee which would risk driving up costs in areas where a financial incentive isn’t already offered. Instead, we urgently need a national recruitment and retention campaign, that is centrally funded, to ensure the right foster home is available at the right time, for every child.

“We hope the CMA’s study and the national review into children’s social care will address the concerns we have been raising for many years, including the shortage of appropriate placements.”

ENDS


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Comment on UASC age assessments

ADCS President Charlotte Ramsden said:

“Unaccompanied asylum seeking children are fleeing desperate situations and arrive here alone in search of safety. Their care and best interests must be at the heart of any decision made, but we are aware of too many instances where children have been wrongly assessed as adults. Conducting age assessments is complex and specialist work and the persistently high numbers of arrivals we have seen in recent months is adding pressures to those caused by the pandemic. However, age assessments are frequently the subject of legal challenge and local authorities are picking up the pieces where decisions made by Home Office are found to be incorrect. This is placing additional pressure on us and our staff at a time when children’s services and social workers are already stretched. It is also a scary and worrying time for children who are far from home and initially placed in unregistered and unregulated settings, namely hotels.

“Urgent improvements are needed in the initial screening process that takes place at ports of entry. ADCS cautiously supports the government’s plans to introduce a common assessment process, however, action is needed now. Age assessments must be driven by a child-centric approach and should be thorough as well as timely. Engaging with gateway local authorities in particular will be key here as they have a lot of expertise in this area. The safety and best interests of asylum seeking children must be at the heart of any reforms or decisions made.”

ENDS


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ADCS response: Removal of the LAMB Grant

Commenting on the removal of the Local Authority School Improvement Monitoring and Brokering (LAMB) Grant Charlotte Ramsden, ADCS President, said:

“Local authorities have a crucial role to play in supporting all schools across place, regardless of governance arrangements. Throughout the pandemic local authorities have worked together with schools to make sure children and young people are in school, learning and fed, highlighting unequivocally the critical role of the local authority in education. This announcement, however, appears contrary to these strong relationships when we should be building on them.

“The Local Authority School Improvement Monitoring and Brokering (LAMB) Grant provides vital resources for local authorities to support schools of all types in their local areas, often in close partnership with MAT leaders. Many local authorities use the Grant to fund school improvement teams and to provide earlier support for schools to avoid the need for formal intervention. Clearly, this is in the best interests of all learners; the suggestion that low levels of formal interventions indicate that this funding is no longer required is misguided. The Grant provides vital resources for critical school improvement activity and is especially important for smaller schools in rural areas. ADCS is concerned that its removal will limit the ability of local authorities to fulfil some of their statutory responsibilities around education and schools.

“Reducing the LAMB Grant to 50% on a per school basis from 2022/23 and removing it from 2023/24, will negatively impact many schools and millions of children. The shift towards de-delegation to fund these activities only puts more pressure on school budgets. The forthcoming Education White Paper provides an opportunity to rebalance the role of local authorities in education alongside academy trusts to create a better school system for all learners. However, with this decision taken in advance of the White Paper despite significant concern expressed in consultation returns, it is not clear how this new funding arrangement will better align academy and maintained schools, given that they are financed differently with many inconsistencies in levels of funding available to different types of schools. This announcement instead appears inconsistent with plans to create an ‘eco-system of schools’ to drive school improvement and improve outcomes for all children.

“As the government plans the education system for the future there must be a strong and defined role for the local authority at its heart.”

ENDS


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Comment: Jenny Coles receives CBE

Steve Crocker, ADCS Vice President, said:

“I’m really pleased to see former ADCS President Jenny Coles recognised in the New Year’s Honours list. Jenny has played an important role in the Association over many many years, first as a policy committee chair and then as ADCS President 2020/21, and I’m delighted to see Jenny’s commitment and dedication to making a difference to the lives of children and families acknowledged in this way.”

ENDS


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Comment on Covid-19 related workforce shortages

Steve Crocker, ADCS Vice President, said:

“As employers of thousands of social workers who deliver vital services for children and families every day, local authorities are planning for workforce shortages should a high number of social workers fall ill with Covid-19 or need to self- isolate in line with government guidelines. During the first wave of the pandemic local authorities responded to workforce shortages by redeploying the qualified staff we already had to different roles as well as using agency social workers when necessary and nationally we were supported by the Social Work Together campaign. Nationally we need to recruit and retain more social workers so any additional workforce shortages as a result of Covid-19 will be a challenge for us, this is why any efforts to encourage experienced social workers to support the profession and children and families once again are welcome.”

ENDS


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ADCS comment following the death of Star Hobson

ADCS Vice President Steve Crocker said:

“While we cannot comment on the specifics of this case, it’s important to say that Star’s death is a tragedy. Reports in the media of what Star endured in her very short life are heart-breaking.

“In recent weeks, two high profile cases where young children have been killed by the very people who should have loved and cared for them most have shone a light on the child protection system. National and local learning reviews are ongoing, and we all have a duty to ensure these horrendous cases produce lasting learning for the greater good.

“For our part as leaders of local services within a multiagency system that protects many thousands of children on a daily basis, we know just how complex and difficult child protection work is. The way we safeguard children has improved in recent years, but we cannot be complacent. There is much greater recognition that safeguarding is everybody’s responsibility and that a range of professionals must work in a multidisciplinary way to achieve this goal, including social workers, teachers, GPs and many others. We are constantly learning, working with our partners trying to ensure the systems we have in place to keep children safe are as effective as they possibly can be. However, despite the best efforts of the agencies involved no system is fail-safe, as much as we might want it to be.

“When things do go wrong it is crucial that we take onboard any lessons, but it’s equally as important that the system is designed and, crucially, resourced properly, so that we can identify children and families who need our help and support earlier to prevent them from reaching crisis point and effectively safeguard children. Social workers are one part of a multi agency group of professionals tasked with keeping children safe from harm; they carry huge responsibility on behalf of us all and they must be supported by a system that enables them to do their jobs effectively. We hope any system level recommendations that come out of the national review into children’s social care will enable us to better meet the needs of all children and young people.”

ENDS


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Comment on child protection and SoS statement on Arthur...

Charlotte Ramsden, ADCS President, said:

“Removing a child from their family is the most serious state intervention in family life and there is rightly a clear framework set out in legislation on how and when local authorities should seek to do this. Indeed it’s important that where children need to come into care they do, but our system is based on the principle that wherever possible children are best placed in their family, this sits at the heart of social work and is enshrined in the Children Act 1989. The tension between early intervention and the prompt removal of children from a dangerous situation must be acknowledged as should the real difficulties and dilemmas faced by our staff when making complex, life changing decisions to keep children safe from harm based on the multi-agency information assessment and analysis available at that time. We welcome the recognition by the Secretary of State for Education that the effectiveness of the multi-agency system is crucial to assist in these decisions and that the plan for the national review and the JTAI reflect this. ”

ENDS


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ADCS response: Ofsted’s annual report 2020/21

Steve Crocker, ADCS Vice President, said:

“Ofsted’s report describes the varied impact the pandemic has had on children’s lives, but also the incredible lengths staff right across the education and social care sectors have gone to to continue supporting children and young people in incredibly difficult circumstances. Examples in the report include staff going above and beyond in children’s homes moving in with children who had to self-isolate, early years staff adapting to support very young children to recover curiosity and rebuild confidence through play and there will be many other examples up and down the country. It’s important all of the extraordinary work which has taken place, right across the children’s sector, in response to the challenges we’ve faced is acknowledged.

“The pandemic continues to impact on us all. While children’s experiences have varied, Covid-19 has disrupted education at all levels, it has increased risks in the home, impacted on children’s emotional, mental and physical health and on their wellbeing. Schools face ongoing disruption with the youngest age groups continuing to experience the highest rates of infection. For some children and families the pandemic has heightened pre-existing challenges from poverty and poor quality housing to access to safe places to play and food. This report clearly reinforces the urgent need for a comprehensive, cross cutting plan for childhood that extends beyond education catch up, taking a holistic vision of children, to ensure every child can thrive not just survive. The plan must consider the differential experiences across the country; some children have lost weeks of face to face teaching due to isolation periods, on top of national and local lockdowns. As the report states, some children with special educational needs and in the secure estate have had particularly poor experiences during this period which cannot be right, local authorities are facing systemic challenges in the delivery of our statutory duties which we hope are addressed by the national reviews into children’s social care and special educational needs.

“We share HMCI’s concerns about how time away from school and learning has impacted children’s educational progress, and also their mental health and emotional wellbeing. The government has invested in tutoring to help children ‘catch up’ on lost learning but this has been via one-off investments rather than as part of a multi-year, multi-level plan. Education recovery must focus on improving children’s broader outcomes, as well as academic. Similarly, the spending review provided some welcome additional funds for children and families however, we need a sustainable long term funding settlement for children’s services which enables us to keep children safe from the immediate risk of harm and to support children and families earlier before they reach crisis point. This is the only way we can ‘build back better’ and enable children to be in a position to learn and play their fullest part in our society.”

ENDS


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ADCS comment following death of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes

ADCS President Charlotte Ramsden said:

“The death of a child at the hands of those who should love and care for them is both heart-breaking and contemptible. Whilst ADCS does not comment on individual cases it is important to comment on the child protection system at this sad time. Significant strides have been made in recent decades to help improve our ability to safeguard children; the use of relationship based practice models, our knowledge of effective interventions and the embedding of multi-agency working have all played a role. The creation of the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel to support the sector to maintain a focus on learning and reflecting on lessons is vital, however there is always more learning to be done.

“As well as learning lessons and improving systems when things do not go as planned, children’s services need the ability to meet the needs of children and families as early as possible to avoid escalation. The commitment to family hubs and the Supporting Families Programme signals a growing recognition of the vital importance of early help systems which are central to identifying children who experience vulnerabilities and working with families to safeguard children.

“Over the course of the pandemic, local authorities and partners have continued to support all children and families, especially those with the most acute needs. The social restrictions introduced to protect wider public health unfortunately added a layer of extra complexity to what is already an incredibly complex and challenging area of work. Sadly, it is not possible to eliminate all risk.

“Any death of a child is tragic. In recent years, there have been advancements in the public debate surrounding such tragedies and increased public awareness of the impact of abuse and neglect. Whilst there is still a long way to go, this has led to stronger multi-agency working and a greater understanding of the complexities professionals face when deciding how and when to intervene in family life.

“The Care Review is grappling with many of these issues and as leaders of one part of the multi-agency safeguarding system, along with the police and health service, we continue to engage with the review to make sure any recommendations for systemic change best meet the needs of children and young people.”

ENDS

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) Ltd is the professional leadership association for Directors of Children’s Services and their senior management teams in England.


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President’s Speech to NCASC 21

ADCS President, Charlotte Ramsden’s speech to the 2021 National Children and Adult Services Conference.

View speech


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Proposals for a national care system

“The proposal as it stands will create very significant disruption with few guarantees of improved outcomes for children, in fact the opposite could easily arise from huge structural reforms. Nationalising 152 local care services and dividing other key services, such as health provision into two sections, would require the creation of new laws as well as the wholesale transfer of records, systems and staff, the tearing up established guidance and ways of working as well as the severing of democratic links with local communities.

“The separation of care from family support and child protection work in local authorities plus the creation of other agencies to oversee independent reviewing officer functions, the purchasing of care placements and a network of new local advisory boards risks more siloed working and confusion, not less. We are ambitious for children and open to reform but we should learn from the failed reforms of probation services and the NHS. This does not seem like the best use of either energy and resources at this time and carries unacceptable levels of risk.”

ENDS


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Comment on Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel’s third...

Charlotte Ramsden, ADCS President, said:

“This latest national learning review from the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel considers some very distressing cases. It is clear the pandemic has intensified some of the ‘hidden harms’ we’ve heard about, bringing the health, safety and wellbeing of children to the fore. Babies and very young children cannot tell us how they feel or what is happening to them and disrupted access to the formal and informal networks families rely on, from health visitors to grandparents, further heightens the risk of harm as the rise in serious incident notifications shows.

“This review highlights some longer term challenges in both policy and practice that require urgent action. This includes the involvement of, and focus on men, both before the birth of a baby and the weeks and months following. Our collective focus is almost exclusively on mother and child and this is crucial, but we must make space for fathers and other male figures in both assessments and offers of parenting support. The Panel calls for new government investment in multi-agency responses, which the Association wholly supports. The role of health services are particularly important but there is more we can all do as local leaders, strategic partnerships and frontline professionals, to understand and respond to the needs of men and share our respective insights in order to keep children safe.”

ENDS


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Afghan resettlement efforts

Commenting on the contribution of children’s services to the resettlement of Afghan refugees, Charlotte Ramsden, ADCS President, said:

“Councils are proud to support the humanitarian effort to resettle evacuees from Afghanistan and are already providing support to families who have arrived in the country in recent days, many of whom remain in hotel quarantine in line with pandemic control measures for red-list countries. We are working closely with central government, charities, housing and health providers on securing longer term accommodation options as well as putting in place mental health and trauma support. Councils are also coordinating generous donations of essential clothes, toiletries and toys from the public.

“Children’s services teams across the country are supporting a very small number of young evacuees who are unaccompanied as well as children and young people who are already in our care with friends and family still trapped in Afghanistan and are working hard on potential education arrangements for the new arrivals too. The government has just confirmed additional funding to facilitate new school enrolments as well as additional support in the classroom and with transport, which is welcome. For councils to be able to support these vulnerable children and their families properly we will need ongoing financial support from government to ensure these schemes are both sustainable and help people of all ages to thrive in their new home.”

ENDS


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Comment on 2022/23 SEND funding allocations

Commenting on the uplift in SEND funding from 2022/23, Matt Dunkley, Chair of the ADCS Resources and Sustainability Policy Committee, said:

“The government’s SEND reforms in 2014 were ambitious, and rightly so, raising expectations and extending the entitlement of support from birth up to 25 years. Several years on, there is growing frustration and record levels of parental dissatisfaction, despite record spending. There are too many perverse incentives against inclusion in mainstream schools and towards increased specialist provision in the way the reforms have turned out on the ground. The government now must face a stark choice of either reforming the reforms, or dramatically increasing funding even further to achieve the intended aims. In this context, it is disappointing that the government’s SEND review, which began in 2019, has yet to conclude.

“This latest uplift in funding to support learners with special educational needs and disabilities is welcome, but by itself it will not address the systemic challenges we now face in the delivery of our statutory duties, particularly in relation to the growing cohort of 19 – 25-year-olds requiring education, health and care plans. This has resulted in unsustainable growth in high needs funding deficits, which distort school spending and could fundamentally threaten the financial stability of local authorities when the accounting rules change in 2023.

“Local authorities, schools, and health commissioners are facing a perfect storm of increased parental demand for high-cost specialist placements, often backed by the SEND Tribunal, insufficient capital funding for new maintained special school places, growing reliance on the costly independent and non-maintained schools, shortages of education psychologists, special educational needs teachers, occupational therapists and specialist mental health provision.

“The DfE and Ofsted have been keen to closely monitor local authorities’ progress against the ambitions of the 2014 reforms. However, from our perspective, government departments and agencies have, at times, overlooked their own role in facilitating change. What is certain, is that we cannot carry on as we are, and that sentiment unites all stakeholders in the system.”

ENDS


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Annual Conference 2021 Presentations

​Charlotte Ramsden CBE - President’s Address - view speech

Minister Ford MP - view speech

Care Review and Permanence

Rethinking responses to adolescents and risk

Children’s Commissioner

Education Recovery

The future mental health system for children and young people

Inspection


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Press release: Presidential address, ADCS Annual Conference 2021

“No child must be left behind in recovery as we move “cautiously but irrevocably” towards a life free of pandemic restrictions, one where we learn to live with Covid-19”, the President of the Association of Children’s Services, Charlotte Ramsden, said today in her speech to the ADCS Annual Conference.

Charlotte Ramsden, who used her speech to highlight the opportunities ahead, including the Care and SEND Reviews, noted that “whilst we have some concerns as to where the case for change might lead, I do think that the review’s upfront acknowledgement of poverty as the principal driver of demand is an important step in tackling the wider societal determinants of family distress”. She also used her speech to thank ADCS members, made up of senior leaders in children and young people services, for their efforts in helping drive forward the Association’s policy priorities such as in the family justice system and ensuring that children’s health needs are higher up the health reform agenda.

Charlotte Ramsden stressed the important role that local government plays in relation to schools and colleges; “schools are at the heart of their local communities, they are not islands nor are they oases”. She went on to say, “the LA has a unique, democratic, place-based role drawing together multiple partners, providers, volunteers and professionals, community groups, and support services. The relationship between local government and schools is symbiotic. Children’s future life chances depend upon schools and local government working in concert”, she said.

She continued, “the announcement in May of £1.4billion for Education Recovery was disappointing, but we take on face value that there will be further investment to come.” Education recovery must go beyond academic attainment and it “cannot be achieved in isolation from improving children’s wellbeing holistically.”

On Ofsted’s review of sexual abuse in schools

The review “makes clear the sheer scale and prevalence of sexual harassment and online abuse experienced by our young people. It’s clear that a wider response is required beyond new guidance or changes to the curriculum, one that develops new expertise and also draws in young people, parents, carers and communities, in order to protect others from harm. Change at a societal level is urgently required to challenge the misogyny, prejudice, harassment and abuse that is still all too common if we are to protect girls without at the same time criminalising a generation of boys. A national campaign is also needed to tackle the casual acceptance of degrading and over sexualised representations of children and young people.”

On the Care Review

The Care Review “reiterates a series of very important issues that ADCS has been raising with government over the last few years - the value of early help, the impact of poverty on children’s lives and outcomes, the marketisation of services for vulnerable children, the slow pace of change in youth custody responses, funding and the lack of coordination for child and family policy across government.” However, “we must also recognise the incredible work undertaken by our social workers, and the wider workforce, on a daily basis.” Further, “the importance of avoiding lazy stereotypes and being ambitious for children in care cannot be overstated. The evidence is clear that the earlier we are able to support families, the more likely this is to happen. Instead, over the last decade central funding for these vital services has fallen dramatically and so all too often we are now only able to intervene when problems have escalated to near crisis levels. The review calls for a vision for children’s social care, we think this must go further and be part of a coherent and strategic long-term plan for children.”

On the SEND review

“I fear that the SEND Review has lost its mojo. Inevitably delayed due to Covid, it has also been effected by a set of changed circumstances altering the landscape. To date in the review, there’s been too much focus on parental wishes and education provision without any incentive for schools to be more inclusive. ADCS will be urging the review to: clarify accountabilities not just responsibilities; invest in short breaks and family support, and secure commitment from national health partners to invest in children’s health needs.”

On placements

“Children and young people with complex mental health needs, high rates of self-harming and suicidal behaviour are often hardest for us to find a placement for that actually meets their needs. Often when seeking to find the right placement at the right time for these children, corporate parents are left with little choice but to create bespoke single placements with intensive wrap around care. The impending ban on placing under 16s in semi-independent placements will exacerbate placement difficulties for this very vulnerable group of children. ADCS has advocated for a refreshed approach to registration of children’s homes, registering the provider not the building in a streamlined process which could include temporary registration for single flexible placements from known and trusted providers. The system must step up and urgently.”

On child poverty

“The impacts of Covid-19 have been differential. The pandemic has simultaneously exposed and heightened the stark disparities between disadvantaged children and their more affluent peers. DfE’s own recently published data show that 1 in 5 children are now eligible for FSM. That’s 1.74million children of whom 430,000 have become eligible since the first lockdown in March 2020. The largest increases in eligibility are in primary-aged pupils. Conference, where is the national plan for children? An ambitious 10-year plan that commits to supporting children to recover from the pandemic and address long term disparities.”

“We need an holistic approach backed by significant and sustainable investment which brings together the educational recovery and wider recovery needs to restore wellbeing.”

ENDS


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Presidential Address ADCS Annual Conference 2021

Charlotte Ramsden’s Presidential address to the 2021 annual conference - 8 July 2021.

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Comment on NTS announcement

Commenting on the announcement of a new National Transfer Scheme, ADCS President Charlotte Ramsden said:

“We welcome any additional funding that has been made available for supporting unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) entering the UK as well as a national approach to age assessments which will share the risks associated with legal challenges where age assessments are disputed. Whilst this is a modest uplift in funding, and remains insufficient to cover councils’ costs, we support the principle that funding will follow the child. This is recognition of the pressures faced by local authorities, caused by rising demand and pressures within the care system as a whole. Councils simply do not have the resources to divert spend from support for other vulnerable children in their care to cover any shortfall in the costs.

“In our joint response to last year’s national consultation on the National Transfer Scheme, ADCS and LGA recognised the growing strength of feeling amongst our respective members in supporting mandation and ADCS is disappointed that the scheme is to remain voluntary. However, we are keen for the revised system, based on regional rotas, to work. This will take into consideration the totality of migratory pressures within a local area when deciding the number of UASC that will be transferred. That being said, there remains several unresolved issues that we have been raising with Department for Education and Home Office officials for a number of years. Funding levels remain inadequate, there is still a need for a range of suitable placement options to meet the needs of those who arrive, better availability of specialist mental health support and significantly quicker immigration decisions for young people, particularly those approaching their 18th birthday. We will continue to work with government on these pressing issues.”

ENDS


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Born into Care – a North East DCS perspective

Today, 8 June 2021, Nuffield Family Justice Observatory published Born into Care: Newborn Babies in Urgent Care Proceedings in England and Wales. Here, John Pearce, Chair of the North East Association of Directors of Childrens Services, responds to the findings of the report on behalf of North East DCSs:

The bite of austerity and the impact of poverty has long been felt in the North East. The recent “Born into Care” report highlights clearly the impact that is felt within our communities and the real and devastating impact that poverty has on the lived reality of many families. At first glance of these statistics you could be forgiven for thinking that services for children in the North East are lagging behind that of our southern counterparts and this could not be further from the truth.

Place based context is vital to our understanding of the levers that impact on our communities. The excellent research of Bywater, Featherstone and others leaves little doubt of the very clear evidence base linking the impact of deprivation to risk for children. The End Child Poverty coalition reports the North East as having the second highest rate of child poverty at 37% and this has seen the steepest rise in the last 5 years. All 12 North East local authorities feature in the top 20 local authorities nationally that have seen the sharpest increase in child poverty between 2014/15 and 2019/20. This is unsurprising news to those of us who live and work in this amazing part of the world.

The Born into Care series, highlights clearly that for too many of our families, life with a myriad of issues such as domestic abuse, poor mental health, the impact of trauma, coupled with significant poverty creates a complex and unequal system which leaves many families ill equipped to provide the safe nurturing environment for their children that they crave and their children need. The substantial reduction in local authority funding since 2010 has a had a massive effect on the North East and our ability to provide the range and depth of preventative services our communities need and deserve. This coupled with a health system often in acute crisis means that too many families find themselves in situations in which risks increase and resilience is compromised. This leads to an unsafe situation for more children that requires a court intervention to ensure they are protected from harm.

The local authorities of the North East have long since recognised the issue raised in the report, and have been committed to further research with Family Justice Observatory (Nuffield), into current practice that is currently been undertaken to inform service development so we can further mitigate the increased risk factors that are evident in the region.

There is a wealth of innovative practice in the North East, some of which will be highlighted in the upcoming Nuffield research, however there remain a number of complex factors which drive families and communities to be unable to provide “safe” care for children. This research highlights important questions for the whole system which require careful and active consideration. Looking only through the lens of any single agency practice will not address systemic inequalities that disproportionately impact on the most deprived communities. There are undoubtedly issues of system, culture and practice we need to develop in the North East and this requires commitment from all services across the system and collaboration with communities.

Local authorities across the North East remain committed to working with families and communities to enable and empower children to be brought up safely and securely within their birth families and communities. Sadly the risks outlined above outweigh the strengths, and systems in place to mitigate are not enough for too many.

Will we be able to achieve what is needed without whole system reform and significant investment in the social Levelling Up agenda? No is the clear answer, so we all need to play our part in providing a system that can give all of our children the opportunity they deserve to live in a safe, loving and nurturing environment.


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ADCS responds to the Wood Report

Sara Tough, Chair of the ADCS Families, Communities and Young People Policy Committee, said:

“The Wood Report gives us good grounds for optimism that change is in train in local partnerships across the country, that it is beginning to embed and this in turn is impacting on children’s outcomes. And, although the report identifies that some partnerships have been bolder and this transformation is at different stages in different areas, this is encouraging news given the review was commissioned just three months after the government’s own implementation deadline and was largely carried out during the pandemic. The events of the last 12 months have underlined the importance of partnership working in this space and the role of schools could not be clearer and, as the report recommends, they must be drawn closer to multi-agency arrangements in a more consistent way going forward.

“The report also calls on cross-departmental ministers and officials to do more to model the behaviours they wish to see in local partnerships, with a specific and sharp step up in support and encouragement recommended. Similarly, the bulk of recommendations are aimed at central government, including new investment in capturing and sharing good practice and expanding guidance as well as greater clarity on funding this joint work would be most welcome.”

Ends


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Charlotte Ramsden Inaugural Presidential Address - press release

Today, Thursday 22 April, Association of Directors of Children’s Services, published the written inaugural address of its new President for 2021/22, Charlotte Ramsden, Strategic Director for People, Salford City Council.

Charlotte Ramsden used her address to outline the Association’s policy priorities for the coming year. She began by looking at the “known unknowns” that will emerge over the forthcoming year. “We know there will be long-term impacts, good and bad, experienced by children, young people and their families.” These children and families will need “long-term sustainable support” which is delivered locally and addresses the entrenched social and cultural problems as well as the immediate impact of the pandemic. “What is unknown is the degree of severity and the legacy of those impacts.”

She then turned to the need for maintaining and strengthening partnerships. We have seen the huge value of local partnerships in our response to Covid-19 and Charlotte highlighted the importance of these as we navigate through recovery. “Partnerships are in our DNA… with strong partnerships we can be greater than the sum of our parts. Never has that been more evident than over the last 12 months.” She went on to praise the work of local government which has “shown astonishing flexibility and resilience within all of our services.” This has been particularly evident with schools where “LAs have vital co-ordination, support and challenge roles. In many ways schools and councils have never been closer than we are now as together we’ve worked to keep children in our sight, maximise school attendance, ensure children learning remotely are fed and supported.”

The forthcoming year will present real opportunities to improve support for children and families to achieve the best possible future. “But children are not just our future, they are our NOW” she said. She continued “if collectively we don’t get things right now, in the care review, in the SEND review… then they won’t have the future they deserve.” To achieve this, we must have a “Long-Term National Plan for Children and Young People” just as the NHS has a Long-Term Plan. This needs to be “ambitious and predicated upon a universal approach to enabling all children to achieve their potential” she said, “whilst retaining a focus on the poorest and the most vulnerable.”

On the Care Review

“ADCS wishes to amplify our influence in order to maximize the impact of the Children’s Social Care Review if it is to be the ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to build on the successes and improve the weaknesses in the social care system in order to improve outcomes for children. Crucially we need better residential care, with placements that meet children’s actual needs. We can achieve this though better commissioning, child-centred practice and regulation that works.”

On children living in poverty

“When I first came to Manchester a very long time ago to study geography at University, I saw for the first time real inner city poverty and I was enraged at the injustice of it, particularly the way it blighted children’s life chances. The burning desire to do something about it changed my career trajectory away from becoming a geography teacher … to training to become a social worker. Now, so many years later, Manchester and Salford are beacons of regeneration. But, poverty is once again, rife, not just here up north, but everywhere. We must shine a light on inequality and do all we can to prevent child poverty becoming an epidemic wrapped up in a pandemic.”

On sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools

“The importance of a universalist approach has been highlighted by the recent and extremely distressing anonymous testimonials posted by women and girls on the website ‘Everybody’s Invited…’ Schools cannot fix all of society’s ills and it is certainly true that there’s a casual acceptance of degrading and over-sexualised representation of women and girls in our society. This has fermented a culture of misogyny which requires profound socio-cultural change if we are to protect girls without at the same time criminalising a generation of boys.”

On joined-up partnership working both nationally and locally

“Central government departments must work together to influence the Treasury…One way of doing this would be a commitment from the nine different central government departments each of which has some responsibility for some aspect of children’s policy, to… join up their thinking and most importantly pool their financial resources. Please stop the waste of time and money that results from dangling disparate, small, time-limited pots of funding to tackle complex, multi-dimensional and entrenched social and cultural problems.”

She went onto say, “one of my policy priorities for the year ahead will be to advocate for the development of a more effective interface – nationally, regionally and locally - with providers of adult health and social care services in the creation of more and seamless 0-25 services for those who need them… together I think we can make sure that the physical, mental and emotional health needs of children and young people are prioritised in ICS developments… The emerging operating model for ICSs… appears to have forgotten children… How can this White Paper have even been conceived of, never mind written in a child-blind way? … As your President I will seek ever closer partnership with health colleagues to meet children’s needs better and together with our friends and colleagues in ADASS and the LGA.”

The full written address can be found on the ADCS website.

ENDS


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Charlotte Ramsden Inaugural Presidential Address

Charlotte Ramsden’s inaugural Presidential speech made on 22 April 2021.


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Digital innovation in children’s social care

During the first few months of the pandemic all of us managed to adapt and innovate in ways that would usually have taken years, all the while during a national lockdown. A number of digital platforms suddenly became the venue of choice for meetings (not to mention the weird and wonderful backgrounds on offer!) We also had to adapt quickly to support our children and families during this time. After a year of working in this way, we can now create the opportunity to consider what we have learnt and what we would want to maintain post-Covid.

Digital innovation in children’s social care has been an ongoing topic of debate for a number of years. The idea of using technology to improve efficiency or reach families sooner sounds appealing, but this should not come at the expense of social worker judgement. More recently the What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care explored the effectiveness of machine learning through predictive analytics, yet the research showed that this was limited at best. Children’s social care is complex and personalised. Building relationships is central to the work of social workers and other professionals who support children and families at times of need. This is not to say that such approaches have no place in the sector, indeed some local authorities are exploring the use of machine learning models as an additional tool to support professional decision making. Similarly, many of us will have been considering which aspects of technology we want to take forward, especially in training, to help support more children and families at an earlier stage.

One thing often been fed back to me over the past year is the importance of seeing people face-to-face, whether that be colleagues or children and young people. Many of our frontline workers have continued to visit those families at the greatest risk during the pandemic, with protective measures in place, but video interaction has replaced a lot of activity. During a video call you can’t always see what’s going on ‘behind the camera’ and you may not notice things that workers would be quick to pick up on had they visited the child’s home. Also, we know many families have struggled with access to technology. Yet despite these obstacles, the use of digital platforms has allowed to us work with more children and families who were otherwise hard to engage with, and this has been true of some professionals too. Clearly, face-to-face interaction will not disappear from children’s services but there are elements of these new ways of working that open up new avenues to improving practice.

The key, as it is with so many things, is finding the right balance including what is beneficial for children as well as practitioners. Being able to physically meet people in their home is an important part of social work and I can’t see this ever being replaced, however who’s to say we can’t use technology to improve practices that we have held dear for so long?

Jenny Coles, ADCS President, 2020/21.

This article was first published as part of a special report in CYP Now in March 2021 - https://www.cypnow.co.uk/features/article/digital-innovation-in-social-care-special-report


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Comment on UASC arrivals and age assessments

Commenting on UASC arrivals and age assessments, ADCS Vice President Charlotte Ramsden said:

“Where unaccompanied asylum seeking children arrive in this country, their care and best interests must be at the heart of any decision made. These children and young people are fleeing desperate situations and arrive here alone in search of safety, whilst many already have a connection to this country, such a family members. The increasing numbers of arrivals in gateway authorities, such as Kent and Portsmouth, by boat over the past year has created unprecedented demand on their services and though councils will do all that they can to help, we need more support from government. For example, there are unresolved and ongoing issues with the National Transfer Scheme (NTS) that the Association has been raising for a number of years. These include issues around funding rates, and making immigration decisions more quickly so that children and young people have certainty about their immigration status before their 18th birthday.

“Conducting age assessments is complex and specialist work and is frequently the subject of legal challenge; individual local authorities cannot be expected to undertake this alone. ADCS has been encouraging the Home Office and the Department for Education to think longer term about the establishment of a national resource for some time. This should absolutely be social work based with specialist training in place and any decisions made must be concluded at pace. Engaging with gateway local authorities in particular will be key here; they have lots of expertise in this area. The safety and best interests of asylum seeking children must be at the heart of any reforms. All children and young people who are eligible deserve to be given the right support to meet their needs and welfare.”

ENDS


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DCMS Youth Sector Engagement Exercise - ADCS submission

ADCS submission to the DCMS youth sector engagement exercise

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Trauma informed practice in children’s services and beyond

Due to its unfamiliarity and unpredictability, the pandemic is clearly a stressful and traumatic event. Although the full impact of our shared Covid-19 experience on both individuals and society remains to be seen, we know that far greater numbers of children and young people will have been exposed to repeated and extended trauma, including bereavement and family breakdown, by the time this is all over. Many more will have felt scared or confused by how radically their lives can change with little or no notice.

Although there is hope on the horizon, vaccines alone won’t help us fully recover from this experience. Beyond the economy, emotional health and mental wellbeing must be firmly on the national recovery agenda. People of all ages will need reliable, long-term support to come to terms with losses and an altered future that is different than they imagined.

The Covid-19 pandemic is an event like no other in living memory, so there is no direct template to follow for recovery. In the wake of previous epidemics, higher prevalences of psychological problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, psychological distress, depression and anxiety were recorded amongst the general population. This certainly chimes with the outcome of recent research and health surveys plus children and young people regularly cite emotional health as one of their top concerns at this time. Covid-19 has clearly intensified the challenges many children and families face and its impact is now evident at the front door of children’s early help and social care, in the rising number of benefit claims, increased homelessness, hunger and greater demand for mental health support.

There are lessons for us to draw from disaster recovery too. Here the need for targeted support to mitigate longer term impacts on children’s wellbeing and development is underlined as well as a universal component emphasising wellness and resilience, typically via schools. A public health style approach to recovery could accelerate the use of trauma informed and restorative ways of working via the incorporation of these principles into policy and practice across the spectrum of public services. It’s easy to see the benefits of building strong, trusting relationships between learners, their families and school staff, for example. The clear line of sight school leaders now have into their pupil’s family life is a strong foundation for this shift coupled with the strengthened relationships between schools, local authorities plus the voluntary and community sectors.

The pandemic has impacted on almost every aspect of our work with children, young people and families. The longer it persists, the greater the risk of physical, mental and emotional fatigue and exposure to secondary trauma on our staff and communities. There are many challenges as well as opportunities for us as employers too. A trauma informed response acknowledges difficult experiences and focuses on what is needed for recovery. It will require a commitment to cultural and organisational change as well as investment at both a local and national level.

Jenny Coles is ADCS President and Director of Children’s Services in Hertfordshire.

This article firsst appearaed in CYP Now in February 2021 - https://www.cypnow.co.uk/other/article/trauma-informed-practice-policy-context-1


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Put child poverty reduction strategy at heart of national...

The latest available statistics, which pre-date the pandemic, show that 4.5 million children in the UK were living in poverty in 2019/20. Alarmingly, the Institute for Public Policy Research recently estimated an additional 200,000 children will have been pulled into poverty by the end of 2020 as a result of Covid-19, whilst an analysis by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggests a further 300,000 children would be pushed into poverty overnight if the £20 weekly uplift to Universal Credit payments is not retained in April.

Whilst Covid-19 has touched us all in some way its impact has not been evenly spread; health, social, educational, racial, geographical and generational inequalities have become more and more visible as the pandemic progresses. Over the last 10 months further challenges have been heaped on a growing number of children, young people and their families as work is disrupted, education is lost and people fall ill. I know from discussions with my fellow directors across the country that the number of children and young people becoming eligible for free school meals is increasing week on week right across the country.

The stark differences between disadvantaged children and young people and their more affluent peers have never been more visible or pronounced. From overcrowded housing and access to safe, outdoor spaces to play during the first lockdown to the food parcels being sent home from school and the fact the government is buying and distributing hundreds of thousands of laptops to facilitate home learning. Whilst these actions are welcome during a crisis, the solutions on offer are only temporary.

ADCS believes a comprehensive child poverty reduction strategy in England must be at the heart of the national recovery plan. Children are now the group most likely to be in poverty, and child poverty has been rising in both absolute and relative terms since for nearly a decade. Over the same period poverty amongst pensioners has fallen dramatically proving progress is possible. Indeed, the pandemic has shown what we can achieve when we work together. From the rapid development and enactment of new laws and the inspiring show of collective support in communities to the mammoth logistical effort to roll out the vaccination programme.

Education is a way out of poverty yet poverty is one of the main barriers to learning. Recent data show that the educational attainment gap between poorer pupils and their more affluent peers is no longer narrowing for the first time in a decade. So, as well as a focus on getting pupils safely back into school in the coming weeks, we need coordinated action on addressing lost learning now and tackling inequalities. Indeed, the government’s own Social Mobility Commission continues to warn that social mobility has ‘stagnated’ and inequalities will remain entrenched without urgent action. Whether we call it social mobility, social justice or ‘levelling up,’ this issue deserves much more attention.

The pandemic adds a new sense of urgency to the growing calls for concerted action on child poverty. The efforts of a whole host of campaigners and groups have kept this issue high on the agenda in recent months. Moving into the recovery phase offers the government an opportunity to turbo charge its levelling up efforts. Whilst education is of course important, the social conditions that support children to engage in learning and thrive must also be in place. To do this we must continue working together to persuade the Treasury not to think of investment in children and their families as a burden or even only of benefit to individuals but as an investment in our society, now and in the future.

Jenny Coles is ADCS President 2020/21 and Director of Children’s Services at Hertfordshire County Council.

This article was first published in the LGC in February 2021 - https://www.lgcplus.com/services/childrens-services/jenny-coles-put-child-poverty-reduction-strategy-at-heart-of-national-recovery-plan-17-02-2021/


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Comment on DfE’s Vulnerable Children and Young People...

Commenting on the latest findings of the Department for Education’s Vulnerable Children and Young People survey, ADCS President Jenny Coles said:

“The latest findings from the survey clearly show that the pandemic continues to impact on the lives of children and families, particularly the most vulnerable. Although Covid-19 appears to pose a lower risk of infection to children and young people, they have been affected by the secondary impacts of the pandemic such as loss of learning, the impact on their mental and emotional health and being unable to access services they may have previously relied on. As the survey findings note, local authorities are now seeing greater complexity of need being presented by children and families. Added to this, we know that early help and preventative services across the country are experiencing an increase in demand. Now more than ever we need to work with children and families who are at risk of poor outcomes at the earliest possible stage, but only with adequate long-term national investment can we continue to provide this vital support.

“Throughout the pandemic, all local authorities have had to consider how we can deliver essential services as members of our workforce fall ill or are required to self-isolate, including our social workers. Although the latest survey findings show that the number of social workers being unable to work due to coronavirus has slightly increased, local authorities have adapted, for example by redeploying their existing staff to fill gaps because those staff are already familiar with local arrangements and systems. The whole workforce has continued to work incredibly hard throughout the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns but we anticipate that our peak in referrals to children’s services is yet to come. When it does this will put added pressure on a workforce that was already under strain pre-Covid-19.”

ENDS


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Parenting programmes

The spectrum of parenting programmes is broad, dealing with everything from behaviour, adolescence and sleep, to health and good nutrition. Some are just a few hours long and are delivered by volunteers, others are much more formalised with clear, measurable outcomes. Programmes of all shades provide advice, support and guidance, some are paid for, perhaps one of the most well-known and popular being the National Childbirth Trust’s work with new parents. We know that parents and carers are often more receptive to advice and support early on, helped by the frequent and regular contact with a range of health professionals in the pre-school years.

Universal parenting programmes are a public health intervention that benefits those directly in need of support while also delivering broader benefits at a population level, such as increased levels of wellbeing. Sustained use of early childhood nutrition programmes delivered via children’s centres in places such as Leeds have notably resulted in a reduction in childhood obesity levels. The evidence base about the effectiveness of programmes is growing all the time, particularly thanks to work of the Early Intervention Foundation and Research in practice. This not only helps us with our commissioning decisions but boosts parental confidence too.

More recently, a growing number of government departments are involved in commissioning their own projects and programmes for specific cohorts or families, often where significant challenges are already evident. Two examples of this being the Department of Work and Pensions Parental Conflict Programme or the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government-led Troubled Families Programme. The latter operates on a different scale and has received the most consistent funding over recent years, meaning it has become increasingly more integral to our work with families as time goes on. Amongst other things, Troubled Families funding pays for a range of parenting programmes offered to families with multiple and interconnected problems, from poor school attendance to unemployment.

Claims about the 100% success rate of Troubled Families have been drawn into question, however, there can be no doubt that the results of parental surveys and the testimony of staff working with families demonstrate real, tangible benefits, including increased confidence and constructive coping mechanisms. Although practical support to change behaviour is offered via the Programme, the material circumstances of families experiencing poverty, unemployment or insecure work, living in poor quality housing and difficulties in accessing mental health support remain largely unchanged.

The best programmes take a collaborative approach, empowering parents and carers to set their own goals and work at their own pace. One of the strengths of the Troubled Families Programme, is the use of a single key worker, allowing a trusting relationship to build up over time. It is important that practitioners recognise the strengths of parents, carers and wider family networks as well as parent’s ability to make positive changes. The ability to tailor support to meet the needs of families is particularly important for young parents, for example, or for those whose first language is not English.

Jenny Coles, ADCS President 2020/21.

This article first appeared in CYP Now in January 2021


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Press release: Interim Safeguarding Pressures Phase 7

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) today, publishes the interim report of its latest iteration of Safeguarding Pressures research. ADCS has collected both qualitative and quantitative data from local authorities to evidence and better understand changes in demand for, and provision of, children’s social care. This interim report provides key headlines of the pressures faced by local authorities during 2019/20 while also including a focus activity in the first three months of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is the seventh phase of study, meaning we can now compare data over a twelve-year period. The interim study draws together survey responses from 79% (119) of all local authorities in England, covering 84% of England’s child population. This, together with existing data, it provides an insight into the safeguarding related pressures facing children’s services across the country. As at 31 March 2020 an estimated 2.44 million contacts were made to children’s social care in 2019/20, an increase of 94% since 2008 and an estimated 81,670 children and young people were in care, an increase of 8.2% since 2018.

The interim report of Phase 7 of Safeguarding Pressures also captured some of the impact of the pandemic on children’s services. Between April and June 2020, during the period of partial school closures:

- There were an estimated 12.6% fewer referrals to children’s social care compared to the same quarter the previous year although there was significant variation across the country, with referrals rising above average levels in some areas during the initial lockdown

- There was a 4% reduction in the number of public law cases in the family courts compared to the equivalent quarter in 2019 and a 52% reduction in the number of final Adoption Orders made.

Local authorities have a legal duty to keep all children safe from harm and to promote their welfare. Cuts to local authority budgets and reductions in other public agencies over the past decade have prevented children’s services and their partners from providing the kind of targeted, early support that allows us to work with families more effectively to prevent them from reaching crisis point. In 2019 it was estimated that children’s social care alone was facing a £3.1 billion funding gap by March 2025 (LGA). Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the context in which children’s services operates has changed beyond what we could envisage and the real impact of Covid-19 on safeguarding children is only now starting to become apparent with predicted increases in referrals and complexity of need.

This interim report provides a high-level overview of the rich data obtained for Phase 7 of ADCS Safeguarding Pressures research. It shows how some local authorities are supporting children and families against a backdrop of significant increases in referrals to children’s social care, children coming into care, the rising number of unaccompanied asylum seeking children, and the number of care leavers. This is coupled with financial pressures mounting on local authorities, such as the transition to business rates retention and the associated lost income over the past year, or the increasing costs of private placements for children in care.

Jenny Coles, ADCS President, said: “This interim report highlights many of the issues that the Association has been raising with government for many years. The pressures on local authority children’s services are very real, although our workforce has worked tirelessly to support children and families during incredibly difficult circumstances, this research shows that the pandemic has had a drastic impact on our work with families. The true impact of the pandemic on children’s services is only starting to emerge and will remain with us throughout the next year and beyond.

She went on to say: “In July this year ADCS published a paper called Building a country that works for all children post Covid-19 which details the additional struggles that families have faced during the pandemic, some of which will have been traumatic for them. For many, this will have exacerbated pre-existing challenges such as poverty, hunger, parental ill health and domestic abuse. With each week that passes thousands more children begin claiming free school meals and the economic outlook going forward seems increasingly bleak, meaning even more children and families will be plunged into crisis. The situation is urgent.

Jenny Coles concluded: “The evidence base continues to grow, illustrating the mounting challenges children and families are facing and the difficulties local authorities have in meeting the level of need now present in our communities in the context of a 50% real terms fall in our funding over the last decade. The government must provide the sector with a sustainable, equitable and long-term financial settlement that enables children to thrive, not just survive in the wake of the pandemic. Respondents to this research said the loss of funding for Troubled Families Programme would have been catastrophic, thankfully this has been extended for a year but we desperately need certainty going forward. A whole system approach to investing in the lives of children and families is urgently needed. We are all committed to making this a country that works for all children, we now need the backing of government to make this happen.”

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) Ltd is the professional leadership association for Directors of Children’s Services and their senior management teams in England.


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Comment on Court of Appeal Judgement on flexibilities afforded to...

ADCS President Jenny Coles said:

“Children’s services continue to do everything they can to safeguard and support children, young people and their families during the pandemic, and we are working very hard to fulfil our statutory responsibilities. Many of the regulatory flexibilities afforded to children’s social care in the early stages of the pandemic were were not used. However, the ones that were used were found to be helpful for local authorities during this unprecedented time. Where they were used we recorded this and put in place checks and balances. Children’s best interests have been, and will always be at the heart of our decision making.

Today’s Court of Appeal judgement found that the Secretary of State should have consulted with the Children’s Commissioner and other bodies representing the rights of children in care, however, this will have no retrospective impact on the flexibilities that were introduced in April and that have since expired. Although ADCS was not directly consulted on the detailed changes made to Regulations relating to children’s social care, we continue to work with Government to ensure that the needs of children and families are front and centre during this ongoing public health crisis.”

ENDS


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Comment on mothers visiting babies in care

ADCS President Jenny Coles said:

“The Covid-19 pandemic has forced all local authorities to find new ways of supporting children and families within the current restrictions. We know that it can be incredibly difficult for those parents who have not been able to visit their children and social workers do all they can to make sure that families can spend time together. The use of virtual contact can be effective in some cases but this may be less suitable for very small children. Local authorities are working hard to reduce the impact of the health restrictions on children, parents and carers where possible whilst also keeping them safe. There are many factors to take into account, for example the availability of Covid-safe spaces or the health and age of foster carers. These decisions should be made on a case by case basis and informed by a risk assessment.

Where the decision is made to take a baby or younger child into care, it is made in the great majority of cases after intensive support with the child and family, in order to safeguard the child from serious harm. There is no right or wrong number of children in care but we are seeing an increase in cases of children who have complex needs that need to be met immediately. It is vital that local authorities and their partners are able to do all they can to support families to stay together, but cuts to early help budgets make this increasingly difficult. ADCS awaits the commencement of the government’s care review”

ENDS


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Comment on the Department for Education’s Vulnerable Children...

Responding to the Department for Education’s Vulnerable Children and Young People Survey: Summary of Waves 1 to 12, Rachael Wardell, Chair of the Workforce Development Policy Committee said:

“Children’s services adapted to new ways of working when the first national lockdown began in March and the learning from this period has been valuable in establishing sound working practices during the current national restrictions. Children’s services have worked hard to stay as close to ‘business as usual’ as possible, in particular by maintaining contact with children receiving support. Because schools and other education and childcare settings have remained open, teachers and other staff are able to raise any safeguarding concerns they may have. All local authorities have had to consider how we can continue to provide essential services as members of our workforce fall ill or are required to self-isolate, including our social workers. As the survey findings show, the number of local authorities reporting over 10% of their social workers being unable to work due to coronavirus slightly increased towards the end of October. Most local authorities have responded to any workforce shortages by redeploying their existing staff to fill gaps because those staff are already familiar with local arrangements and systems.

We anticipate that our peak in referrals to children’s services is yet to come, and when it does this will put added pressure on a workforce that was already under strain pre-Covid-19, particularly if the number of social worker absences continues to rise. We hope that the current national restrictions will succeed in reducing the transmission of the virus and therefore mean fewer members of our workforce are unavailable for this essential work. ADCS has been raising for some time the issue of social work sufficiency, namely recruitment and retention. Local authorities are already doing innovative work to ensure they have a sufficient, high quality workforce, but a national campaign which tackles longstanding stereotypes head on and clearly articulates that good social work helps change lives for the better would undoubtedly help with this.”

ENDS


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Children’s Commissioner’s reports on the care system

Commenting on the Children’s Commissioner’s reports on the care system, ADCS President Jenny Coles said:

On placement sufficiency

“The suite of reports published by the Children’s Commissioner highlight a number of issues that ADCS has been raising for some time around the number of available homes and the role of private equity in residential care. Ensuring that children in care have a secure, consistent and caring home to stay in is one of the highest priorities for all local authorities. In some cases, moving homes can be positive, necessary and in the best interests of the child in question, or for other children in the same place. Indeed, sometimes there is a need to offer short term placements to support good matching processes between families and children. Unfortunately, finding the right home, at the right time and in the best location for a growing number of children in our care is becoming increasingly difficult because we face a national shortage of placements of all types. In our recent submission to the Treasury’s spending review, we called for capital investment to support local authorities to re-enter or further develop their in-house children’s home offer on an invest to save basis; over time needed revenue funding would be released to cover the running costs.”

On private equity in residential care

“Children’s services have long operated in a mixed economy with private, voluntary, charitable and community providers but multi-million-pound mergers between providers are becoming commonplace. Private equity is driving rapid changes in ownership, financial models and it is driving up risk too. Some of these providers offer excellent provision, yet market forces alone cannot address the capacity, quality or cost challenges as well as the growing geographical imbalance in residential provision. If the Treasury were to provide local authorities with the funding we need to develop and shape the market in line with the needs of the children in our care, the long term benefits for children will far outweigh the short term costs.”

On unregulated provision

“The term ‘unregulated’ does not mean unchecked, unsuitable or unsafe. Independent or semi-independent provision can be the right thing for some young people when it is used as part of a planned process as a stepping stone to independence with a support plan in place; wrap around support might be part of the package and this is often highly tailored. These kinds of placements, such as supported lodgings, are more often used for young people who are 16 or over who need some level of support, but not full-time care. In cases where this type of provision is used for young people under 16, it is never an easy decision but there are often few alternatives if multiple registered children’s homes have refused placement requests. The government has committed to undertaking a review of the care system and this must commence as soon as possible so these issues can be addressed.”

ENDS


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Comment on Ofsted report ‘Matching in foster care’

Commenting on Ofsted’s ‘Matching in foster care’ report, Edwina Grant, Chair of the ADCS Health, Care & Additional Needs Policy Committee said:

“The findings from Ofsted’s report on the experiences of four local authorities in matching children with foster carers highlights a number of important areas that are central to a successful fostering placement, such as relationships, love and a child-centred approach to matching. The majority of children in our care live in foster families and ensuring that we find the right placement, at the right time with the right support is one of the highest priorities for all local authorities. However, there is a national shortage of foster carers and the pandemic is likely to increase our need for all types of placements for children in care. We are hopeful that the government’s much anticipated care review will explore some of the issues raised by Ofsted.”

ENDS


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Government announcement of funding for children and families over...

Commenting on the government’s announcement of a Covid Winter Grant Scheme and expansion of the Holiday Activities and Food programme, ADCS President Jenny Coles said:

“The announcement of additional funding to help children and families afford essential basics such as food and energy to heat their home is to be welcomed and it is right that this funding will be directed through councils. We note that this will not cover all of the school holidays but local authorities will have flexibility around how this is distributed. The pandemic has caused, or in some cases exacerbated, longstanding issues that many families in this country face such as poverty, poor-quality housing or access to technology.

The Winter Grant and increase in Healthy Start payments will go towards giving families and pregnant women extra security over the coming year and allow councils to expand on the vital work they are already doing to support those children and families who are most in need. We also welcome the expansion of the Holiday Activities and Food Programme from Easter through to Christmas 2021. School holidays are particularly difficult for vulnerable children and far too many families are forced to make tough decisions every day between eating, paying bills or keeping warm. A comprehensive plan to tackle both the symptoms and root causes of poverty is long overdue. The government must lead this endeavour from the front as a matter of urgency.”

ENDS


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Comment on HMCI’s NCAS Conference address

Jenny Coles, ADCS President, said:

“Local authorities and their partners share the concerns raised by HMCI about the risks to vulnerable babies, particularly during lockdown. We know that babies are amongst the most vulnerable cohorts and Covid-19 is exacerbating many of the risk factors that families face. These risks are heightened by socio-economic deprivation, poor and overcrowded accommodation, and alcohol or substance misuse. The pandemic has seriously disrupted a key line of sight into the lives and homes of many families and we welcome the recent announcement from the Department for Education and Chief Public Health Nurse that health visitors, as well as other health professionals, will not be drawn away from their vital work with children going forward.

Safeguarding is everybody’s business and multi-agency practice is the core of all effective safeguarding work. For children under 4 years-old, health are the key universal service but we also need greater government investment in services that support parents with the challenges they face. This would be a good thing for children and has never been more important during these challenging times. The National Panel continues to highlight key areas of national importance in child safeguarding including a report on sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI) earlier this year, and we await its follow-up report on non-accidental injury (NAI). It is vital that we are able to act on this learning by fully resourcing local authorities to protect our most vulnerable children and infants.”

ENDS


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Comment on Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme Round 2...

Commenting on the Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme Round 2 Final Report, ADCS Vice President Charlotte Ramsden said:

“ADCS welcomes many of the findings in this report which supports issues that we have been raising with government for many years, namely; the need for long-term investment, the value of early intervention, and the importance of developing the wider children’s workforce. There is mounting evidence that prevention and early intervention work, not only in reducing demand for statutory services, but also in improving children’s and family’s life chances. The role of the wider children’s workforce, including early years and youth work, as well as schools and further education settings, are key to this.

As the report notes, the additional Innovation Programme funding was key for the projects to meet their aims and this must be sustained to allow them to continue their positive progress. ADCS urges the Department for Education to support local authorities in our calls for a sustainable, long-term funding settlement from the Treasury. One that allows us to put in place the kind of approaches that we know builds consistent, trusting relationships with children and their families and therefore improves lives.”

ENDS


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NCASC20 Presidential Speech

ADCS President, Jenny Coles’ address to the 2020 National Children and Adult Services Conference

View speech

Jenny’s speech referred to a video from children and young people which can be found in the clip below


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ADCS President’s address at the National Children and Adult...

Addressing delegates at the virtual National Children and Adult Services Conference Jenny Coles, President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), today said:

On Covid-19 and inequalities across society:

“The pandemic disproportionately impacts upon older people, the poor and the young. Older people because they are more likely to experience severe symptoms and die. The poor because they live in poor-quality housing and have in-secure work. And, the young because of the impact on their education and their future life chances. More than 4 million children were living in poverty before the pandemic and a further 200,000 children into poverty. Children from BAME groups are more likely to be in poverty and children from households in the bottom fifth of income distribution are over four times more likely to experience severe mental health problems than those in the highest fifth. These factors and others potentially severely limit children’s life chances.”

On the need to invest in children’s services:

“The case for investing in children has never been stronger if we are to prevent the long tail of disadvantage from blighting the lives of children and young people for a generation. Investment must be prioritised to focus on:

• Prevention and early intervention

• Re-setting the SEND system to ensure the needs of children are met in mainstream settings where possible and as close to home as possible

• Care and sufficiency challenges of a lack of available and sustainable homes in the right place at the right time. The market, which is an illusory market, will not address the spiralling costs of independent placements

• Investing in a first-class education for all pupils. One that is inclusive, has a broad curriculum and employs a range of assessment and testing tools which allow all pupils to demonstrate their potential.”

On the care system:

“The imperative of central and local government acting in concert to address the pressures in the care system is clear. The single biggest cost pressure within children’s services budgets is the cost of homes for children in care. Mergers and buy-outs by venture capitalists are actually contracting the number of providers in the ‘market’. The Care Review offers the opportunity to think creatively about using care in a flexible way to support families staying together rather than separating them – a shared care model. It is time to act.”

On recovering, re-storing and re-setting after the pandemic:

“Throughout the pandemic many, many families have shown remarkable resilience. We have also seen a reaffirming of the strong partnerships that exist between local authorities and schools. There is an opportunity for government to pursue its levelling up agenda, through the lens of social justice and for the statutory and voluntary sectors to play their parts. How?

• By increasing spend on early years, particularly in deprived areas

• By actively tackling child poverty. This year, 2020, marks the 21st anniversary of Prime Minister Blair’s pledge to eradicate child poverty by 2020

• By focussing forensically on closing the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.

None of us is wholly sure what lies beyond the Covid horizon. But I know my colleagues in children’s services across England will remain committed, as I am, to making this a country that works for all children.”

ENDS

Notes:

• The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) Ltd is the professional leadership association for Directors of Children’s Services and their senior management teams in England.

The full speech can be found on www.adcs.org.uk


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Pulling children out of poverty

Over four million children in the UK live in poverty (many from working households) but these figures predate the coronavirus pandemic. Analysis by the Institute for Public Policy Research estimates 200,000 more children will be pulled into poverty by the end of 2020 because of Covid-19. Many more families are facing financial strain due to shrinking incomes and job losses and are relying on food banks just to get by, and there is a real risk the situation will get worse when the furlough scheme comes to an end this month.

Hearing Marcus Rashford speak from experience about the pervasive impact of hunger and poverty in recent weeks has been incredibly powerful, and it is right that the government temporarily extended free school meals over the summer holidays, providing a lifeline for many families struggling to feed their children. Children’s life chances and outcomes can be improved by the right policy decisions which is why we need robust national strategies aimed at tackling the root causes of poverty not just the symptoms.

Education is a way out of poverty, but poverty is a major barrier to learning. How can we expect children to be able to learn if they’re regularly going hungry and experiencing the stresses and strains of living in deprivation? Research undertaken prior to the pandemic by the Education Policy Institute highlights issues which should alarm policy makers; the education attainment gap between poorer pupils and their more affluent peers has stopped closing for the first time in a decade, and the most persistently disadvantaged pupils (a growing cohort, made up of those that have been eligible for free school meals for in excess of 80% of their school lives) continue to have worse outcomes than their peers. Alongside a focus on getting pupils back to school we need coordinated action to tackle the social determinants of educational and health inequalities to ensure every child is given the opportunity thrive. This is key to fuelling Britain’s economic recovery post-Covid-19.

Poverty is not inevitable or ‘someone else’s problem’. There is not only a moral imperative for urgent government action but an economic imperative too: improving the circumstances in which children live today will support them to develop into well educated, well developed adults who actively contribute to society. Levelling up children’s life chances should be the cornerstone of the government’s ambition to ‘level up’ society.

This column first appeared on the MJ website on 6 October 2020 https://www.themj.co.uk/Pulling-children-out-of-poverty/218804


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We must do more to understand ACEs, but recognise they have their...

The concept of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) originated in America over two decades ago. The theory is that the more ACEs someone experiences, the greater their risk of poor outcomes in later life, in part because early exposure to toxic levels of stress arising from traumatic events can change the way the brain develops. This impacts on a child’s ability to navigate everyday life which in turn increases their risk of developing health harming behaviours, including obesity and drug use.

Awareness of ACEs has grown in recent years and in many ways it offers us an accessible narrative for talking about the lifelong impact of trauma in early childhood. All to the good but no two people, or their experiences, are ever the same and I worry about oversimplification. Childhood experiences and events can shape who we become as adults but we also know that strong, consistent relationships can ease the worst effects of early adversity.

Ten traumatic events or circumstances, including domestic abuse and divorce feature, however, other known determinants of poor health and wellbeing, such as social inequality or food insecurity, are not considered here. People’s lives, their vulnerabilities as well as their personal resilience and support networks cannot be easily captured via ACE screening tools; the love and support of siblings, stepparents or even a teacher can help a child to come to terms with grief or loss.

As you can tell my feelings about ACEs are mixed. On the one hand raising awareness of the impact of adversity on children’s lives and outcomes can open the door to new multi-agency responses but on the other hand the notion of working through a clinical checklist to arrive at a score can be limiting. This could retraumatise a child whose life and experiences do not fit within neat boxes plus their risks or vulnerabilities can change over time. Instead a holistic assessment of need is required as are strengths and relationship-based approaches to support in order to build resilience and empower children and young people.

An appreciation of ACEs can engender greater understanding of the challenges children face and has real value in raising the awareness of childhood and family distress and adversity amongst the wider public, politicians and policy makers. However, this should not be used to label or stigmatise individuals or groups, such as children in our care.

It would be a significant step forward if the government took trauma aware approaches to developing new policies as would the prioritisation of early help and support to prevent the escalation of distress. An even bigger and bolder step would be the widespread adoption and use of trauma informed responses across all public services. This public health style response may help us to respond the consequences of the pandemic. Covid-19 could be amplifying some challenges and may have given rise to many more. Plus, the economic fallout may be with us for years to come so we do not yet know how this experience will impact on the lives and futures of children and young people.

This column first appeared on the CYP Now website on 29 September 2020 https://www.cypnow.co.uk/other/article/adverse-childhood-experiences-policy-context


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ADCS responds to Department for Education’s Vulnerable Children...

Responding to the Department for Education’s Vulnerable Children and Young People Survey: Summary of Waves 1 to 10, Jenny Coles, ADCS President, said:

“Referrals to children’s social care fell during lockdown and our staff have worked tirelessly to adapt and ensure that children and families remain safe, despite many being less visible at school or in health settings. The summary report of waves 1 – 10 of the Department’s survey shows that overall the number of referrals over this period remains lower than in previous years, although we have seen gradual increases with each passing wave of the survey as restrictions ease and the majority of children return to school.

Children’s services departments across the country are now returning to business as usual as schools have now fully opened and children are in contact more with professionals who can raise any safeguarding concerns. As such, working patterns and contact with vulnerable children is now more consistent with usual ways of working. Many parts of the workforce have been able to adapt to remote working and this has thankfully resulted in a lower proportion of social workers not being able to work due to Covid-19. However, when the anticipated peak in referrals to children’s services arrives, we will need government to support us. Children’s services already faced a significant funding gap before the pandemic hit and Covid-19 has only increased those cost pressures, for example, as highlighted in this report, around four in five local authorities have reported a rise in weekly foster and residential placements costs due to Covid-19. The government must act now to provide children’s services with the certainty of an ambitious and sustainable long term funding settlement. Children and their families deserve more than just the bare minimum levels of resourcing and support.”

ENDS


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ADCS responds to LGA report on ‘A child-centred...

Responding to the Local Government Association’s report on ‘A child-centred recovery’, Jenny Coles, ADCS President, said:

“There are some important messages for government in this new report from the Local Government Association, in particular the need for children to be at the heart of recovery planning. We share concerns raised about the impact of Covid-19 on children and families, particularly the most vulnerable and significant cuts to funding for early intervention and preventative services. Before the pandemic, children’s services were dangerously close to becoming a ‘blue light’ service, too many children and families were unable to get the support they needed when they needed it and were reaching crisis point as a result. Covid-19 is creating a perfect storm of extra challenges for children, families and the services supporting them, and we anticipate significant increases in demand are just around the corner, when the hidden harms of the past seven months become apparent just as the economic downturn begins to bite. This report underlines the need for government to properly resource children’s services as we gear up to support more children and families recover from the impact of the pandemic in addition to those we were already supporting. We need and want to be able to support children and families who need it but without more funding from government further cuts to vital services will be necessary. Funding children’s services on a shoestring budget is not the right thing to do, nor is it a smart economic policy. How can we ‘build back better’ as a country without investing in our future, in our children and the full range of services they rely on today.”

ENDS


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ADCS responds to the SoS’s speech on adoption

Responding to the Secretary of State’s speech on adoption Jenny Coles, ADCS President, said:

“Finding loving, stable homes for children who cannot live with their birth families is a priority for all local authorities, and councils continue to support adoption where it is the right option. Over recent years, we have made good progress in terms of timeliness of placements however it remains that some children continue to wait longer than others. We need more people from all walks of life who want to adopt to come forward if we are to meet the diverse needs of the children who are currently waiting; those children who often wait the longest for adoptive families are older, sibling groups, and from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.

“We can’t be complacent when it comes to making what are complex and life changing decisions on behalf of the children in our care, therefore, it is right that there is a rigorous and thorough assessment and approval process for adopters, one that ensures vulnerable children don’t face further trauma and loss. If an ethnic match with potential adopters is considered to be the right thing for a child, then it should be pursued.

“While the national focus continues to be on adoption, it remains the placement choice for a small number of children in care. ADCS members are committed to encouraging a widening of the debate about adoption to fully recognise the value of all forms of permanence for the children in our care, many children get the stability and love they need in foster care, residential care, kinship care or special guardianship arrangements, for example. Above all else, it is important that the needs and best interests of each individual child always remains at the heart of decision making.”

ENDS


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ADCS responds to the announcement on 2021 school exam dates

Responding to the Secretary of State’s announcement on 2021 school exams Gail Tolley, Chair of the ADCS Educational Achievement Policy Committee, said:

“Too many children and young people have had their lives disrupted because of Covid-19 both inside and outside of school. Although yesterday’s announcement provides a degree of certainty for them, their teachers and schools about dates for summer 2021 exams, ADCS is calling on government to quickly publish contingency plans in case exams cannot take place. Ongoing disruption in areas experiencing extended lockdown, with classes, whole year groups and even whole schools being continuously impacted by closures means pupils spending more time out of school and could even result in some learners being unable to sit their exams next year. Online learning can only go so far if pupils do not have access to the internet or a quiet place to learn at home. Our collective aim must be to ensure any contingency arrangements are fair to children and young people who have lost out on so much learning already and to avoid, at all costs, a situation like we had this year when pupils faced additional worry and uncertainty about their futures.”

ENDS


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Comment: UASC and ADCS age assessment guidance

Commenting on UASC arriving in Kent and other gateway authorities and the ADCS age assessment guidance, Jenny Coles, ADCS President said:

“The increasing numbers of asylum-seeking children arriving in Kent, as well as other gateway authorities, over the past few months has placed unprecedented demand on their services. Kent County Council recently came to the difficult decision that they can no longer accept any more newly arrived UASC into their care because it is unsafe to do so, despite their best efforts to avoid such a situation. We are thankful to the local authorities who have offered their support, indeed over 140 children and young people arriving at Dover have since been safely placed with other local authorities. Councils want to help but to do this we need more support from government, for example, government must address the unresolved and ongoing issues with the National Transfer Scheme (NTS) that the Association has been raising with them for years, including the need for grant funding from the Home Office to fully cover the costs of supporting unaccompanied children and young people, and UASC leaving care. Some councils support an alternative option to the voluntary system by mandating transfers under the NTS, and while rota systems have been effective in some areas, mandating transfers may be seen as the only next step if effective changes are not made soon. Providing councils with the funding they need could support transfers from Kent in the short term, and the revised scheme in the long term. Other issues include the need for quick and accurate decision to be made over a child’s asylum claim, and the need to ensure placements and specialist mental health support is available when and where they are needed. We need to work together to ensure there is a sustainable and equitable response to this humanitarian crisis that operates in best interests of children and young who are fleeing desperate situations and have risked their lives in search of safety.

“Conducting age assessments is complex and specialist work. In 2015, ADCS and a consortium of partners from local and central government, health, the police and non government organisations developed practice guidance intended to support social workers to conduct the best age assessment possible, bearing in mind the best interests of children. The practice guidance was designed to fill an obvious gap in national policy to support social workers conducting age assessments, however, it’s important to recognise it has no formal status rather it is there to advise and assist social workers. ADCS is encouraging the Home Office and the Department for Education to think longer term about the establishment of a national resource for conducting age assessments.”

ENDS


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Comment: MoJ family court quarterly statistics

Commenting on the latest MoJ family court quarterly statistics Sara Tough, Chair of the ADCS Families, Communities and Young People Policy Committee, said:

“Local authorities and the courts have made good progress in improving the timeliness of care proceedings, down from an average of 50 weeks in 2011 to 26 weeks in 2016. Although average times have since lengthened it is important to recognise the distance travelled; we are performing better for children now than we were nine years ago. Several things have impacted on timescales, for example, the number of cases has increased as has the complexity, and delays can also be caused by assessments that must be completed for family members who emerge once proceedings are already underway. When considering these statistics we must take into account the significant disruption to the work of the courts as a result of the pandemic; in person hearings were largely unavailable for the period covered and remote hearings often take longer and are not well suited to complex, contested hearings, therefore, the data may not represent general trends in the family court system.

“The Public Law Outline has benefitted children and families in terms of reducing unnecessary drift and delay in the system, but our main aim should always be meeting the individual needs of a child or young person, even if this falls outside of the 26 week limit.

“The significant increase in numbers of domestic violence remedy order applications between April to June is concerning, however, it is reassuring that there has also been an increase in the number of orders granted by the courts to protect victims. That said, domestic abuse is the most common reason children and families come to the attention of children’s social care, the Domestic Abuse Bill must go further to prevent it from occurring in the first place.”

ENDS


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Comment: report by the Parliamentary Taskforce on Kinship Care

Commenting on the Parliamentary Taskforce on Kinship Care’s report, First thought: Not an afterthought, Charlotte Ramsden, ADCS Vice President said:

“Where kinship care is considered to be the best option for a child it should be explored by local authorities. We recognise the significant role of family and friends who step in to provide a stable, loving home for children when they are unable to live with their birth families. For a child to stay in a place they know, with people they love and who love them is invaluable. Support for formal kinship carers and the children they care for is vital but can vary depending on the type of arrangement they are in, however, local authorities may provide support based on a case by case basis according to assessed need. The report describes a system whereby kinship carers and the children they care for face a post code lottery of support. Since 2010, funding for local authorities has halved and sustained increases in safeguarding activity and the overall care population is putting more pressure on resources. The forthcoming Spending Review must provide proper, sustainable funding for children’s services that enables investment in earlier support for children and families before crisis hits.

“The Taskforce highlights ways to improve the experiences of and support available to kinship carers and the children they care for, its focus on ensuring their voices are heard is welcome. We are certain this insight will be valuable to the government’s care review when it commences which should include a focus on formal kinship care arrangements; we would urge government to start this as soon as possible.”

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Comment: ADCS submission to the CSR 2020

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) today, Thursday 24 September, publishes its submission to the Comprehensive Spending Review, outlining the clear moral and economic imperative for the Treasury to put children at the heart of its spending plans.

Since 2010, funding for local authorities has halved but need has not. Councils have worked hard to manage demand and protect the most vulnerable, but they have been left with no other option but to perversely cut the very services that enable us to intervene early before crisis hits. This is a false economy and is storing up huge financial and human costs for the future.

Local authorities are legally required to set a balanced budget, but the totality of funding allocated by central government is simply not enough: funding has not kept pace with demand. Covid-19 has further increased the cost pressures on councils and while emergency funding from government has helped, this is no substitute for a long term financial settlement that benefits all children, one that critically enables us to sustain and stabilise the services already in place while also investing to meet the unprecedented level of demand we anticipate over the coming years. The government’s current piecemeal approach to funding is not conducive to this nor is it equitable, there are several small pots of funding for some councils to trial different ways of working. Over recent years, councils have developed robust evidence of approaches that work to meet the needs of children and families and reduce demand, government now needs to fund the national roll out of these so all councils, and ultimately children, can benefit.

ADCS members have identified four priorities for investment over the period of the Spending Review: prevention, SEND, care, and education. Beyond funding, a series of national policy reforms are needed to unlock significant savings which could be reinvested into children’s services. This includes a review of outdated legislation underpinning home to school transport which sees councils spend over £1 billion per year on transporting children to and from school, reforming the SEND reforms to ensure that, where appropriate, children are educated in mainstream settings and as close to home as possible, removing the ability for significant profits to be generated from the care of vulnerable children and ensuring the best use of the funding available for the National Citizenship Service.

Jenny Coles, ADCS President, said: “Before the pandemic, there was not enough money in the system to meet the level of need in our communities, Covid-19 has further illuminated and significantly exacerbated that inadequate baseline of funding. We are seeing newly vulnerable families who we’ve never worked with coming to our attention because of issues such as domestic abuse, neglect and financial hardship, and escalating levels of need amongst those who were already facing challenges. The end of the furlough scheme in October and the anticipated recession will likely further increase the number of families who need our help and support. Local authorities are bracing themselves for an unprecedented level of demand for children’s social care, in the autumn and beyond. We need and want to be in a position to support children now and in the future and we will need increased, and crucially the right, financial support from government to do this.

She went on to say: “The Comprehensive Spending Review is taking place in a very different context to any before it, all public services have been affected by the pandemic and will have competing demands. However, the Treasury must recognise that spending on children now, improving the circumstances in which they live and learn and supporting them to become adults who actively contribute to society is the ultimate invest to save case. An unprecedented level of investment in children’s services is needed to sustain services and respond to the scale of the impact of the pandemic on vulnerable children, young people and their families. ADCS estimates children’s services will need between £4.1 billion to £4.5 billion, in each year of the Spending Review. This will cost money now, however children and society as a whole will reap the rewards in the future.”

Jenny Coles concluded: “It’s time to do things differently. We have evidence that working with children and families at the earliest opportunity, using relational, strengths based practice models works but this requires a resource intensive long term approach. ADCS is calling on government to provide children’s services with a sustainable, equitable and long-term financial settlement that enables children to thrive, not just survive in the wake of the pandemic, and prevents the need for further cuts to early help and preventative services. I want to see the Treasury use the Spending Review to reboot how it invests in children and children’s services recognising the relationship between spending on vulnerable children now and future spending on vulnerable adults tomorrow. Children and families cannot wait any longer for this.”

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ADCS responds to MoJ White Paper on sentencing

Commenting on the release of the Ministry of Justice White Paper “A smarter approach to sentencing”, Jenny Coles, ADCS President said:

“We welcome efforts to prevent crime and make communities safer, however, longer sentences will not help us to achieve this. We’ve made excellent progress in reducing the numbers entering the youth justice system over the last decade but too many children and young people go on to reoffend after serving a custodial sentence. For those who end up in custody, better support during their sentence as well as ongoing support to help them resettle into their communities and break the cycle of reoffending is key. Education is absolutely critical to this - it opens the door to positive opportunities such as long-term employment and training – so too is meeting children’s health and care needs. This is recognised in the White Paper, as it was in Charlie Taylor’s review several years ago, we need to see the pace of change increase, rapidly rising rates of violence and self-harm across the youth custodial estate underline the need for change.

“There are some encouraging proposals in the White Paper in relation to children and young people who are already in conflict with the law, such as reducing the amount of time some young people are required to disclose details of their convictions to prospective employers and the greater use of community resolutions. This must sit alongside a focus on supporting children and young people earlier to prevent offending in the first place as well as rehabilitation, funding to support youth offending teams and wider children’s services to shift the dial on this will be critical but is unremarked upon here. We also need greater emphasis and investment in tackling the root causes of offending behaviours, including poor mental and physical health, family dysfunction and low educational attainment, which will save the public purse money in the long run.

“Some of the proposals around sentencing are concerning. Although the distinct and unique needs of children are recognised in the Paper the government’s plans more closely align the youth and adult justice systems. Whilst we recognise custodial sentences are necessary for the most serious crimes, children and young people’s offending behaviours must not blind us to their underlying needs and vulnerabilities and their capacity for change. ADCS would welcome an opportunity to discuss this further with government.”

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Comment: research on machine learning in children’s social...

Commenting on new research by What Works for Children’s Social Care on the use of machine learning in children’s social care Jenny Coles, ADCS President, said:

“This report highlights the challenges of trying to predict human behaviour and gives policy makers, local authorities and others a lot to consider. Children’s social care is complex, no two families or situations are the same and building relationships are central to the work of social workers and other professionals supporting families in times of need. Although the researchers did not find evidence that the machine learning models tested in this study worked ‘well’ in children’s social care, the study did not seek to answer whether, or not, such approaches could ever work in this context. We know some local authorities are developing or exploring the use of machine learning models in children’s social care as an additional tool to support professional decision making. It could be worthwhile exploring further, particularly if it could help us to be effective in identifying opportunities to support children and families earlier before they reach crisis point.”

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ADCS responds to OCC report on the use of unregulated settings

Responding to the Children’s Commissioners call for a ban on the use of unregulated accommodation Jenny Coles, ADCS President, said:

“No child should live in unsafe, unsuitable accommodation, and we share concerns that this is not always the case. Finding the right placement at the right time for the growing number of children in our care and care leavers is a priority for all local authorities but this is becoming increasingly difficult because we face a national shortage of placements of all types. Independent or semi independent provision can be the right thing and placement of choice for some young people when it is used as part of a planned process as a stepping stone to independence with a support plan in place. This is different to it being used in emergency situations after a placement breakdown or when no other placement can be found for a child with very complex needs. A blanket ban on the use of these settings for under 18s would remove the flexibility we currently have to support young people in their journey to increased independence. It would also further exacerbate the sufficiency challenges local authorities are currently grappling with. The government has committed to undertaking a review of the care system and this must commence as soon as possible so these issues can be addressed.”

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Comment: Government consultation on the National Transfer Scheme

Jenny Coles, ADCS President, said:

“ADCS is pleased the government is consulting on changes to the National Transfer Scheme, we see this as an opportunity to raise again several unresolved issues that we have been raising with officials in the Department for Education and Home Office since 2016. Issues include woefully inadequate levels of funding, the need for a range of suitable placement options to meet the needs of those who arrive as well as availability of specialist mental health support. In the current context the need to quarantine new arrivals should be considered too. It is right that Kent and other gateway authorities should not bear the brunt of supporting the rising number of asylum seeking children arriving alone on UK shores, and we are thankful to the many local authorities who have offered their support so far to help to alleviate the immediate pressures in Kent. Any new arrangements need to be sustainable and have children and young people’s best interests at heart; we believe that the proposal in the consultation for a regional rota system has a better chance of achieving a long term equitable solution. However, a regional rota system is not a long term solution to the long standing issues that government must address, including placement sufficiency, funding levels including funding for care leavers, age assessment, and more timely immigration decision-making for children. ADCS will be responding formally to the consultation after discussions with our members.”

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ADCS statement on vulnerable UASC arriving in Kent

Jenny Coles, ADCS President, said:

“Kent County Council and a handful of other gateway authorities have been supporting a high number of asylum-seeking children for many years. Increasing numbers of arrivals in Kent by boat in the past few months has created unprecedented demand on their services and the council has reached the difficult decision that it no longer has the capacity to safely accept any more newly arrived unaccompanied asylum seeking children into their care. These children and young people are fleeing desperate situations and arrive here alone in search of safety. We are extremely grateful to those councils who have offered their support, but more assistance is needed.

“We have been here before - this is a national humanitarian crisis which requires a long term, national humanitarian response. Councils will want to help but now more than ever we need the government’s support. The Association continues to work with the Department for Education and the Home Office to address the immediate pressures in Kent and press for resolution on several long standing issues including funding, a shortage of placements and a lack of specialist mental health support to help young people recover from the traumas they have experienced. In the context of the pandemic questions remain about safely quarantining new arrivals too.

“We welcome the government’s recognition of the pressures we face and their commitment to launching the long awaited consultation on changes to the national transfer scheme later this month, the Association will be responding formally after discussions with our members in due course. Right now our priority must be to work together to ensure that vulnerable children arriving in the UK are treated with compassion and kindness and their best interests remain at the heart of our responses.”

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Comment: Ofsted visits to local authorities and csc providers

Commenting on Ofsted’s assurance visits to local authorities and children’s social care providers Steve Crocker, Chair of the ADCS Standards, Performance and Inspection Policy Committee said:

“Covid-19 has required children’s services departments to swiftly adopt new and different ways of working. Similarly, children and young people have faced months of disruption to their lives because of the pandemic, many haven’t attended school since March or been able to access the vital support services they rely on. The pandemic may have changed the way we are working with children and families (sometimes for the better) but it has not changed our commitment to meeting their needs. Ofsted’s assurance visits may be one way of capturing the learning from this complex period, including identifying best practice in the context of the pandemic as well as what needs to be improved. These visits could also be helpful in developing our responses to future waves and pandemic events. That said, while health services may have passed through the first wave of Covid-19 related activity, children’s services and children’s social care has not and we are anticipating a difficult autumn as we expect many hidden harms to emerge as children become more visible to a range of professionals. This is likely to coincide with all pupils returning to school and the commencement of other inspection activity – including inspections of youth offending teams and schools – which will involve children’s services departments; this, combined with localised outbreaks and lockdowns could create significant pressure on our services and staff and the inspectorates must be alive to this. Whilst there may be benefits in capturing learning and developing practice, care must be taken to ensure that there is a balance between inspection, assurance, developing learning and allowing local authorities to respond to what we anticipate being a very tough autumn.”

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Comment: unaccompanied asylum seeking children

Jenny Coles, ADCS President, said:

“The increasing numbers of asylum-seeking children arriving alone in Kent the past few weeks and months has created an acute and immediate capacity issue for the council. Despite their best efforts the authority is unable to safely accommodate any more new arrivals at this time. Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and young people have experienced a lot in their short lives; many have fled their homes and risked their lives in search of safety. They both need and deserve our compassion and support.

“Local authorities want to play their part in responding to this humanitarian crisis, but in order to do so we need the government’s help and support. Many children have already been settled across the country via the national transfer scheme, however, the challenges we all face, from not being fully funded for our important work in this area and a shortage of suitable placements to the dearth of mental health support, are still the same as in 2016 when the French authorities cleared the camps in Calais. We need to work together to ensure that children’s best interests remain at the heart of all arrangements and that local services are safely able to meet any additional demand; children’s lives and futures are at stake.”

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The impact of Covid-19 on childhoods and children’s services

In July ADCS published a short discussion paper aimed at capturing the impacts of Covid-19 on both services and childhoods and putting children and their lived experiences of the pandemic front and centre in national recovery plans.

Covid-19 has heightened the challenges many children and families already faced, from poor housing, hunger, safe spaces to play outside and access to adequate IT equipment or broadband so that they can learn at home. More children and families will have reached a tipping point, and we are seeing families we have not previously worked with who are experiencing domestic abuse, neglect and financial hardship. The number of applications for free school meals is increasing daily and it is estimated hundreds of thousands of children will be plunged into poverty by the end of this year because of Covid-19. There is just no way of knowing how big this cohort of newly vulnerable children and families is at this stage, or what the costs of meeting their needs will be.

The social and emotional impact of this period could cast a long shadow over childhoods for many months and even years to come. Numerous surveys show that stress and anxiety about exam cancellations and the impact this will have on plans for future study, training or employment is second only to young people’s concerns about the health and safety of friends and family during the pandemic. We anticipate a surge in referrals when children go back to school in September and in the months that follow when professionals have more face to face interaction with children and any hidden harms are uncovered. We need properly and equitably resourced children’s services to minimise the impacts of the virus on children and to support them to thrive in a post-Covid-19 world, yet I am worried that when our peak of activity arrives there will be no emergency funding left.

The government must act quickly to address the £3.1 billion funding gap the LGA estimates will exist in children’s services by 2025 and provide the equitable, long term funding we need to meet children’s needs, now and in the future. But improving children’s lives and outcomes is about more than just money. Children must become a much bigger priority for the government going forward and we need long term strategies to address the stark inequalities the virus has exposed and amplified. Covid-19 will continue to impact children’s lives for years to come, without long-term thinking we cannot create a better society with improved health and greater health equity.

Just before Covid-19 fully entered the national consciousness, Sir Michael Marmot published a report on health inequalities; the findings were stark. A decade on from his original review, life expectancy has stalled, and is even falling in some areas and for some cohorts, and health inequalities have widened. The real possibility of a second wave of the infection, more local lockdowns or a recession will likely exacerbate these inequities.

I think the past few months have shown us how much can change in a short space of time. There have been so many challenges in responding to the pandemic, but there are opportunities coming down the line to build back better and stronger, to put the levelling up of inequalities that damage childhoods and life chances at the heart of the government’s recovery plan, to prioritise people and their wellbeing over the economy. The Spending Review needs to have children at its heart and contain substantial funding for them, their families and the full range of services they rely on.

Jenny Coles, ADCS President 2020/21 and Director of Children’s Services, Hertfordshire County Council.

This column first appeared on the LGC website on 5 August 2020 | https://www.lgcplus.com/services/childrens-services/jenny-coles-childrens-services-need-funding-ahead-of-autumn-wave-of-referrals-05-08-2020/


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Comment: DfE vulnerable children and young people survey

Commenting on findings from the DfE’s vulnerable children and young people survey an ADCS spokesperson said:

“Referrals to children’s social care fell during lockdown, but as the survey shows they are starting to pick up again as restrictions ease and children are more visible. We fully expect referrals will continue to rise as children come into contact with more professionals who would usually raise safeguarding concerns. The pandemic has placed new and additional pressures on many children and families and we are seeing newly vulnerable families because of domestic abuse, neglect and financial hardship, in addition to those we were already supporting. When all pupils go back to school in September, we are expecting and planning for a surge in referrals to children’s social care services, this will create significant funding pressures, both in-year and into 2021/22. When this happens, we will need to be in a position to meet their immediate and long term needs but in order to do this we need government to support us. However, we are concerned that by the time we reach our peak in demand there will be no emergency funding left for us to draw on. Children’s services need the certainty of an ambitious and sustainable long term funding settlement and, crucially, children and their families deserve more than just the bare minimum levels of resourcing and support.”

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Comment: Families in temporary accomodation

Clive Jones, ADCS Honorary Secretary, said:

“Everyone should have a safe place to call home yet we know the lived reality for an increasing number of children and their families is very different. A lack of affordable housing and social housing is having an impact on vulnerable families and levels of homelessness across the country, and it means councils have limited options available to them when trying to find suitable accommodation for families who need it. As a result, more families are having to rely on temporary accommodation, and councils are forced to use bed and breakfast accommodation to house homeless families when there is no other alternative. We agree that the pandemic has added a whole new layer of risk for children and their families, with hundreds of thousands of children expected to be pushed into poverty by the end of this year because of Covid-19 and an impending economic crisis the situation will likely get worse not better for many families. Alongside investment in genuinely affordable housing we need government to invest in services that prevent families at risk from becoming homeless in the first place, and to recognise the wider impact of its welfare reforms on our most economically fragile households.”

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Comment: The Safety Net is Gone report

Commenting on the new CPAG report, The Safety Net is Gone, Jenny Coles, President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), said:

“One in three children in England are living in poverty today, their experiences can often be overlooked and their voices go unheard. That is why we wanted to support this exercise as a means of raising awareness of the pervasive impact of poverty, which damages childhoods and life chances. It means cold homes, overcrowding, hunger and stress which can lead to family breakdown. It means charities stepping in to fill the gaps left by the state and schools feeding pupils and their families over the summer. This is simply unacceptable. We hope the findings of this survey will serve to strengthen our collective calls for action on child poverty by policy makers, sooner rather than later.”

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Comment: DfE children’s services omnibus wave 5

Commenting on the DfE’s Children’s Services Omnibus Wave 5 Research Report, Rachael Wardell, Chair of the ADCS Workforce Development Policy Committee said:

“This report provides valuable insight into a number of important areas for both local and national government to consider. The report highlights many concerns that the Association has been raising for some time around social work sufficiency, particularly the recruitment and retention of experienced social workers. Local authorities are doing innovative work to ensure they have a sufficient workforce but a national campaign which tackles longstanding stereotypes head on and clearly articulates that good social work can, and does, change lives would undoubtedly help with this. The report’s finding that 40% of local authorities lack confidence when asked if they have enough social workers to meet their needs over the next year is worrying, particularly given the context we are working in and the expected increase in demand for services when all children return to school in September.

“Most local authorities have joined their regional Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) as one element of their workforce strategy, in an attempt to improve the stability of the workforce, and to manage the cost and quality of agency social work staff. Where MoUs work well, they have delivered good outcomes for participating local authorities. However, there is definitely regional variation in the extent to which local authorities commit to the MoU, and providers of agency staff can be all too quick to exploit any lack of commitment to the principles, by pitting one local authority against another. This is unhelpful to local authorities trying to improve quality while keeping costs down, but the resulting workforce instability is - above all - damaging to children and to families, who tell us they really value continuity so they can build a relationship with their social worker. ADCS encourages all local authorities to participate in their regional MoU and to adhere to its principles.”

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Comment: ASYE child and family annual report

Commenting on the second annual report on the ASYE for children and families Rachael Wardell, Chair of the ADCS Workforce Development Policy Committee, said:

“This report provides valuable insights into the ASYE programme for children and families and the experiences of newly qualified social workers. For example, regular supervision is identified as the single most critical element in managing the workload, securing protected time and supporting overall wellbeing of new social workers. The benefits to wellbeing are enhanced when new social workers have informal and pastoral support from their colleagues. Access to buddying, training and coaching are valued too. There is important learning in this report for local authorities, particularly in relation to the significant value senior management ‘buy in’ can bring to the success of the ASYE and how the level of support available to newly qualified social workers, and all those involved in supporting them, is key to their wellbeing. Social work is complex and challenging work and good employers provide appropriate support at every stage of a social worker’s career. It is in this spirit that some organisations are considering extending elements of the ASYE support package into the second year of practice.

“Workforce sufficiency continues to be a challenge for all local authorities, and we are committed to ensuring that social workers entering the profession are well supported with their workload and wellbeing. For newly qualified social workers developing their practice in their first year in employment this is particularly important, and a well-designed ASYE programme is a good way to do this. However, we recognise there is variation across the country. This is in part because the programme is employer-led and therefore the approaches taken are largely informed by the local context. That said, it is encouraging to see that the majority of ASYE programmes visited were delivered at least in line with basic requirements, and where there were issues about the ASYE experience these were acknowledged by employers, who will want to improve what they offer. Local authorities remain committed to getting the basics right so that good social work can flourish. This includes ensuring social workers get the support they need, have manageable workloads, and receive regular, reflective supervision where they can raise issues about their work. We cannot support the children and families we work if we do not support the staff who work with them.”

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Comment: New Ofsted data on private and voluntary providers of...

Edwina Grant, Chair of the ADCS Health, Care and Additional Needs Policy Committee, said:

“The majority of children in our care live in foster families and ensuring that we find stable placements for them is one of the highest priorities for all local authorities. There is a national shortage of foster carers and Covid-19 is likely to increase our need for all types of placements for children in care. Children’s services have long operated in a mixed economy with a range of providers involved in the delivery of children’s services locally, however, we are concerned that the trend towards consolidation and the concentration of placements in the hands of a small number of providers represents a level of risk in the system, should any of these providers fail no single local authority could step in meaning vulnerable children would suffer the greatest consequences.”

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Comment: Covid-19 and pressures on children’s services

Jenny Coles, ADCS President, said:

“Before the pandemic, a decade of austerity left local government funding in a parlous state and children’s services teetering on the edge of becoming a ‘blue light’ service. Covid-19 has exacerbated the cost pressures local authorities were already experiencing and children’s services is yet to reach its peak in demand due to Covid-19. It’s likely we will be dealing with the long term impacts of the virus on children for many months to come. Referrals to children’s social care initially reduced during lockdown but are now accelerating. When schools fully reopen in September, we expect to see an exponential surge in demand for children’s services, this will create real and significant funding pressures, both in-year and into 2021/22. Emergency funding from central government will help local authorities with our continued response to Covid-19, however, I am concerned that when the peak of activity arrives in children’s services, there will be no emergency funding left. This is when children and families will need us the most and we will need the most financial support from central government. The government must recognise that children’s services need the certainty of an equitable, long term funding settlement, children and their families deserve more than just the bare minimum levels of resourcing and support - their life chances depend on it.”

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Child Safeguarding Panel’s review on SUDI

Commenting on the National Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel’s thematic review into sudden unexpected deaths in infants Charlotte Ramsden, ADCS Vice President, said:

“We welcome this report which focuses on sudden unexpected deaths of infants in families where children are considered at risk of significant harm. The report’s emphasis on drawing together learning from cases, together with research and evidence to improve the way we work with families to reduce the risk of sudden unexpected deaths in infants is helpful. I’m sure this will lead to the development of practice models that make a difference. The Panel found some examples of good local practice but there is much more we can do to work with parents, particularly the most vulnerable, to prevent these tragedies from happening in the first place, and to address a wider range of risks to children’s health and safety. Between June 2018 and August 2019, 40 serious incidents notified to the panel involved infants who had died suddenly and unexpectedly, most involved babies under three months old. Almost all incidents involved parents co-sleeping with infants and parental drug use and substance misuse were common factors, behind each of these cases is a family left devastated by the tragic loss of their child. The report reveals that children from families who are facing a range of challenges, such as domestic abuse, poor parental mental health and overcrowded conditions at home, appear to be at greater risk of dying in this way. We welcome the emphasis on the importance of differentiated and responsive multi-agency practice as this is the core of all effective safeguarding work. We know that the impact of Covid-19 is exacerbating many of these risk factors for families which makes the report’s findings even more important. Therefore, alongside improving how we work with families locally and nationally to address the issues of safe sleeping and the wider related risk factors, we need greater government investment in services that support parents with the challenges they face. This would be a good thing for children and has never been more important in these challenging times.”

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Comment: DfE guidance on full opening of schools

Commenting on the Department for Education’s guidance on a full opening of schools, Charlotte Ramsden, ADCS Vice President, said:

“ADCS supports the governments ambition to get all pupils back to school in September. Over the next week many schools will be closing for the summer holidays but there are still issues which need to be ironed out to support a full return to school in the autumn. This includes issues around home to school transport and maintaining and managing bubbles in school settings. Complexities such as an aged school estate with smaller spaces within which to operate, delivering a broad and balanced curriculum which will require staff to move between bubbles especially in secondary schools, management of specialist support, extra-curricular provision and use of supply staff are exercising the minds of school leaders as they prepare. There is much more work to do locally, regionally and nationally to reassure parents, carers, children and staff and we are doing our utmost to support this work.

“Local authorities have a statutory duty to transport learners to and from school where they have special educational needs or disabilities or live too far from school to reasonably, or safely, walk, and we are working hard to ensure that we can fulfil our responsibilities, while aligning as far as possible with the system of controls outlined. The Department for Education’s guidance states that social distancing and ‘one metre plus’ rules will not apply on home to school transport. However, the guidance does recognise the additional pressure social distancing rules will place on the capacity of public transport services which might mean it is necessary for local authorities to provide additional school transport services to enable pupils to get to school. This will have cost and capacity implications for local authorities, and we continue to raise these issues with the Department for Education.”

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Building a country that works for all children post Covid-19

Building a country that works for all children post Covid-19

Building a country that works for all children post Covid-19 is an ADCS discussion paper looking at the impacts of Covid-19 on children and their families, in order to put their lived experiences front and centre in national recovery planning whilst also articulating what is needed to restore and reset the support services they rely on.

Read the discussion paper


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PR - Building a country that works for all children post Covid-19

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) today, Tuesday 14 July, publishes a new discussion paper on the impacts of Covid-19 on children and their families, in order to put their lived experiences front and centre in national recovery planning whilst also articulating what is needed to restore and reset the support services they rely on.

The paper attempts to capture both the challenges as well as the opportunities of the pandemic, and sets out the Association’s early thinking on the strategic risks that need addressing in order to ensure children are safe, cared for and thrive in their education and beyond. It is not intended to be an exhaustive list but the beginning of an ongoing conversation about how to build a country that works for all children post-Covid-19.

The impact of the pandemic on children’s physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing cannot be underestimated. Children and young people have faced months of disruption to their lives and sacrificed months of their education for the health and safety of us all. The pandemic has heightened the challenges many children and families are facing, from poverty and poor quality housing to access to technology, safe places to play and food and laid bare stark inequalities in our society that cannot be ignored. Nobody knows how long social distancing measures will be in place or if there will be a second wave of the virus but worrying signs are emerging about the scale of new and escalating need resulting from the pandemic.

Covid-19 has increased cost pressures on councils who have a legal duty to set a balanced budget. Three injections of emergency funding have helped but a longer-term financial settlement is needed, one which enables us to invest meaningfully in early support for families. Beyond funding, we also need to consider the robustness of the children’s system as a whole and its capacity to meet the needs of children and families, now and in the future. In planning for the re-set and recalibration, there are myriad strategic, practical and policy considerations requiring careful co-ordination. It is vital that local and national partners work together for the benefit of children and young people and there is cross government accountability for how policies affect children’s outcomes.

The Paper includes a series of immediate asks of the government to support and recalibrate children’s services, including a review of responses to the first phase of the pandemic to inform what comes next. The Department for Education should articulate the impact of Covid-19 on childhood across government and lead the charge for securing sufficient resources for children’s services in the forthcoming spending review. In terms of long term changes needed to improve children’s lives, ADCS calls on government to implement the principle recommendation in Sir Michael Marmot’s 2020 review of health inequalities in England, as well as his specific recommendations to address the inequalities children face, including increasing spending on the early years and ensuring the allocation of funding is proportionately higher for more deprived areas, reducing levels of child poverty and putting equity at the heart of national decisions about education policy and funding. ADCS members stand ready to work with government, and others, to achieve this.

Jenny Coles, ADCS President, said: “Although Covid-19 appears to pose a lower risk of infection to children and young people, we are concerned about the secondary impacts of the virus on them. Surveys undertaken in lockdown highlight increased fear, anxiety and loneliness amongst children and young people and many children have been unable to access support services they rely on. Children are in danger of being the long term victims of the disease, like they have been with austerity. This is why ADCS is calling on government to put children and their outcomes at the core of national recovery planning.

She went on to say: “Every child and young person has been affected by Covid-19, but their experiences will vary and will not be evenly spread. Some families will have benefited from this time together, but we are also seeing families we haven’t worked with before becoming vulnerable for the first time because of jobs losses but also domestic abuse and neglect, as well as those who were already known to children’s services presenting with additional challenges that we will need to meet. The entire children’s workforce has been incredible during this period, social workers and staff in residential children’s homes have embraced new ways of working to support children and families and colleagues in schools and early years settings have worked hard to keep children learning during lockdown. But the peak of activity in children’s services is only just beginning – this is when children and families will need us the most. We are clear that harms to children have not simply gone away but will become visible as restrictions ease and children are seen by schools and other settings that are likely to raise safeguarding concerns.

Jenny Coles concluded: “To achieve a country that works for all children in a post-Covid-19 world, long term strategies to close the gap in terms of education, health and poverty are urgently needed. Just before the pandemic transformed our way of life and laid bare the inequalities in this country, Sir Michael Marmot published a review of the health of the nation which found a deterioration usually only evident following a ‘catastrophic’ economic or political shock, such as the breakup of the Soviet Union. The report suggests austerity is driving rising levels of child poverty and stalling life expectancies outside of London. The key recommendation was the initiation of an ambitious health inequalities strategy, led by the Prime Minister and a Cabinet-level cross-departmental committee. There can be no delay in levelling up the inequalities faced, children’s life chances and all of our futures depend on it.”

ENDS


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Comment: Chancellor’s summer economic update

Commenting on the Chancellor’s summer economic update Jenny Coles, ADCS President, said:

“The Chancellor used his statement to set out a new three-point plan to support, create and protect jobs to help the UK recover from the coronavirus pandemic. This includes measures aimed at helping young people into jobs and funding for apprenticeships and careers advice. The focus on creating opportunities for young people is welcome particularly as forecasts suggests they will be hit hardest by an expected recession. If these apprenticeships are to meet the needs of our young people and make a real and lasting difference to their future outcomes they will need to be good quality. ADCS is clear this is not job done for children and young people. Beyond creating jobs, we want to see bold action from government to support and protect children, families and the services they rely on, helping them to recover from the impacts of Covid-19 as well as long term strategies to address the stark inequalities laid bare by the virus. Without this, children are in real danger of becoming the long term victims of the pandemic.”

ENDS


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ADCS President Written Address 2020

​ADCS President, Jenny Coles, has made a written speech to mark the start of the virtual ADCS Annual Conference 2020 for our members.

View written speech

View press release

The Secretary of State for Education and the Minister for Children and Families have produced a video message for ADCS colleagues which can be found below.


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