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Covid-19 is building future pressures for children’s services

On 1 April I became ADCS President and I feel privileged to be able to represent colleagues and peers in this way.

Directors of children’s services are familiar with leading services in challenging circumstances but the pandemic is the biggest leadership challenge many of us will ever face. I am proud of the way the sector has risen to this challenge, keeping key services going and meeting the needs of children and their families, albeit in new, virtual and innovative ways. It’s been great to see collaborative working in these unprecedented times. There will be lessons and new ways of working we can take forward from the crisis. Councils continue to do what they do best acting as leaders of their local place, and we are seeing the reaffirmation of strong partnerships between councils and schools.

Our work as ADCS has at its core a country that works for all children and a top priority for us this year is maintaining visibility on the need to ‘level up’ society and make it more inclusive, so that children and young people feel a greater sense of belonging at home, in their community and in school. Urging government to address properly several longstanding issues affecting children’s lives including government inaction on child and family poverty and the woeful underfunding of our overstretched services remain high on our agenda. The current crisis is building future financial pressures for children’s services and councils are expressing concerns about their ability to balance budgets when this is over. Recent funding announcements are welcome, however more funding will be needed to help councils cope with the additional need for our help and support Covid-19 will undoubtedly create.

The pandemic has highlighted existing fragilities in the system, such as a shortage of placement options for children in our care, care leavers and children in need of specialist help and support. Working with government departments and our partners towards a national sufficiency strategy of placements for these cohorts is another priority for us this year. It’s our collective duty to find safe, suitable places for children and young people to live and to meet their needs in a holistic way so that they thrive, promoting important connections with their family and friends and providing help and support at the earliest opportunity is part of this.

Local authorities and their partners are already doing work around recovery thinking about how best to support children and families on the other side of this crisis. I fear the impact will be most profound for children and young people who are facing months of lost socialisation and learning due to school closures, concerns about exams and their futures and for some social distancing and lockdown measures will be exacerbating existing anxieties and mental health problems. When restrictions are lifted, it’s likely we will see huge spikes in demand for children’s social care, more children coming into care, increased incidences of children living with parental substance misuse, domestic abuse and parental mental ill-health and greater demand for child and adolescent mental health services. We remain committed to meeting the wide-ranging needs of children and their families and it falls on all of us to ensure children don’t pay the heaviest price.

I look forward to my year leading the Association, albeit on a virtual stage for the time being, and to working together with government and partners in the sector to ensure children are at the heart of decisions that affect their lives.

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

This column first appeared on the LGC website on 14 May 2020 |

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