“Councils have led their communities at this time of crisis”

“Colleagues across children’s services should be commended for their determination to keep children safe and well” throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services said in a written speech to mark the start of the virtual ADCS Annual Conference 2020.

Jenny Coles used her speech to thank directors of children’s services and their teams for their “extraordinary leadership” during the crisis, in the face of “a tsunami of pressures” and acknowledged that councils have worked hard with schools and early years settings to keep them open for vulnerable and key worker children, innovated to keep children safe from harm and supported children with special educational needs and disabilities. Similarly, school staff have worked tirelessly to provide blended learning and wellbeing support offers for pupils in school and at home. However, the impact of “the pandemic, the lockdown and loss of learning” on children’s future life chances cannot be under-estimated, neither can “the enormity of the task ahead” for central and local government and others in redressing vulnerability and disadvantage heightened by Covid-19, she said.

Jenny Coles continued, the pandemic has shone a “spotlight on inequalities and social injustice in our society”, some communities have been particularly affected. Addressing these inequities should be at the core of this country’s recovery strategy. “The difficult circumstances experienced by children and families who were already disadvantaged before the pandemic have been exacerbated” by Covid-19. Many more families have become newly vulnerable since lockdown, facing financial hardship due to job losses or reductions to their income for example. “An overhaul of welfare reforms” is needed to prevent families from being pushed into poverty, “let’s be ambitious for children and families and support them to thrive, not just survive” in a post-Covid-19 world, she said

Next week, ADCS will publish a discussion paper which attempts to articulate some of the short- and longer-term impacts of Covid-19 that children, young people and their families may experience, now and in the future and sets out what we think the Department for Education’s role should be, working with ADCS, in re-setting and restoring the services children and their families rely on. It attempts to put children and young people’s experiences front and centre of the national dialogue about how we as a nation recover, re-set and restore, “in a way that has been sorely lacking on the part of our national politicians” until recently. She went on to say, “the journey ahead for us and the children we work with will not be smooth”, but ADCS members are committed to working with government to make “this a country that works for all children.”

On poverty

“Last month the IPPR published analysis of the impact of Covid-19 on poverty in the UK. The analysis estimates that another 1.1 million people will face poverty at the end of 2020 including 200,00 children. Without urgent action to protect families from the financial hardship caused by the pandemic, this would bring the total number of children living in poverty in the UK to 4.5 million by the end of this year…What are the weapons in our armoury to fight child poverty? Firstly, direct huge resources at families with children. Secondly, direct huge resources at schools and colleges. Thirdly, direct huge resources at local government. Plainly this would require new additional money but it’s also an opportunity for government to look at the profile of its investment across departments and change it.”

On the widening education attainment gap

“As the Education Endowment Fund has said, school closures will likely reverse progress made to close the educational attainment gap in the last decade. Sustained support is needed to help disadvantaged pupils catch up. Educational success is one of the best predictors of future success in life. Thus, understanding what causes attainment gaps and how we can address them is one of the most important policy challenges for any government and society…Education is about more than just what happens in school and during the school day. A child’s school career is connected to the rest of a child’s lived experiences. But…the DfE does divide off schools from the rest of the department’s work to improve children’s outcomes. This makes even less sense in a world where we are living with Covid-19”.

On schools

“As the nation is learning, closing schools is easy, re-opening them requires a Herculean effort on the part of many. Local authorities are principal amongst those actors working closely with schools to help government understand the myriad complexities involved in getting ready for a fuller return to school in September…One of the things that school closures has reminded us of is the dual role of schools – to provide a good standard of education and to safeguard and promote the safety and wellbeing of its pupils.”

On the Care Review

“ADCS believes that care should: protect children and young people from significant harm; address a child’s basic need for good parenting; and improve the outcomes of vulnerable children and young people. If these are the outcomes we seek to achieve, what then are the most effective means of doing so? National policy, media and public discourse are largely focussed on individual aspects of the placement conundrum – we focus too much on where children live rather than focussing on meeting their specific and individual needs.

“I sincerely hope the Care Review will start soon…I am certain that we can as a nation do better for our children in care and our care leavers.”

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.

Notes to Editors:

• The full written address can be found on www.adcs.co.uk

The new ADCS discussion paper on Covid-19 mentioned in the speech will be published early next week on www.adcs.org.uk. If you are interested in an interview with the ADCS President please email press@adcs.org.uk



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