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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.”


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

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