PR - President’s speech to the ADCS Annual Conference 2023

The President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, John Pearce, used his speech to the ADCS Annual Conference, today, to reflect on the government’s response to the independent review of children’s social care, Stable Homes Built on Love, “most of which ADCS has welcomed”. For example, the government’s commitment to publish a kinship care strategy feels likes an “opportunity to make a real difference to a group of carers and children” who haven’t previously had enough focus and attention, he said.” Any reforms would need to be met with adequate funding.

John Pearce highlighted several issues ADCS has urged government to take “swift and decisive action on”, such as the “unaffordable costs and…blatant profiteering, that’s associated with agency social work and in particular, the growth of project teams”. The sector as a whole has “rallied behind the proposals” in the consultation on the agency social work workforce, he said, “as have children and young people”. ADCS members are “committed to working with government on implementation of the full suite of proposals” at pace. “It is not an easy set of reforms to deliver…but we must hold our collective nerve”, he urged.

John Pearce went on to say, finding placements for children in our care is such a “critical plank” of the children’s social care reform programme “that we can’t afford to get it wrong”. The government has accepted the Competition and Markets Authority’s recommendations to address the current “dysfunctional” placements market, yet there is no strategy that delivers on them. The lack of placement sufficiency and the associated challenges this brings are “unprecedented”. “I fear that we will reach crisis point before we are able to reap any of the wider benefits envisaged by the reform programme”, he warned.

Regional Care Cooperatives (RCC)

“....We have offered up some constructive challenge to government and set out an alternative vision for the RCC concept. This includes a summary of the prerequisites for success which must be delivered nationally, which we believe will help us to deliver for children and young people. A set of national conditions for success need to be in place before we can even think about trying to implement reforms, these include a workforce plan, a multi-year funding settlement, a more ambitious capital programme and possibly most critically a move to bring regulations up to date – it’s been two decades since the last substantial review and the world has changed a lot in that time, not least the needs of children and young people and how we respond to them.”

Inclusive education

“For children and young people, the impacts of the pandemic were in many ways greater than for us adults. They were broadly at lower health risk but they willingly gave up their educational experience and social development to protect the adults in their lives and their local communities. Outside of health and social care settings, the disruption to places of education extended far beyond initial lockdown periods. Who amongst us…can forget the herculean efforts required to manage bubbles, navigate staggered drop off and pick ups, new handwashing regimes, segregated playtimes, and cancelled events and activities?

“In many ways this broke the social contract between parents, children and their schools. The impact is clear to see in the ongoing levels of persistent absence, in the reports from schools about disruptive behaviours, in difficult transitions from primary to secondary school, in levels of worry and stress about sitting exams for the first time. In many cases we don’t yet know what’s learning loss or developmental delay and what’s new need. An inclusive system of education needs to recognise these challenges; a long term national plan is needed to support children to recover from this experience.”

SEND

“Since the Children and Families Act 2014, we have seen a rapidly increasing drift away from inclusion in mainstream schools, and at the same time an over reliance on independent specialist provision. Education, health and care plans were only ever intended to better meet the needs of a small cohort of children with more complex health and learning needs who required support across the three domains, they were not designed to be akin to supercharged special educational needs statements but yet they are now seen by many as the only gateway to access any form of additional support…The level of demand in the system is not mirrored in the allocation of resources.

“The SEND Review: right support, right place, right time, produced a clear and shared narrative about the challenges in the system, however I’m not sure we have landed on a good enough narrative as to how we will address them. There isn’t a policy solution to the cost and demand that is set within the current system, and baked in for many years to come, without significant national intervention and legislative reform.”

On migrant children and the asylum system

“…We urgently need a new conversation with the Home Office and the Department for Education about migrant children, one that is conducted in the true spirit of co-production and focused on the system as a whole. Every year, as the weather improves and more small boats arrive, we have the same conversations and crisis response. More recently, the pressure hasn’t been as seasonal, it’s been constant as we try to manage the demand on children’s services created by Home Office asylum hotels, and soon to be created large adult asylum sites. Some aspects of the current system need urgent change, it’s simply not acceptable that age disputed young people from Home Office commissioned hotels are treated as spontaneous arrivals to host local authorities, this is clearly not the case. They have been placed there by the Home Office so there is nothing spontaneous about it and the disproportionate impact on host local authorities is becoming an increasing issue we need to revisit now.”

On mental health

“…I once again want to call for a national review of the children’s mental health and wellbeing system…we need to reset the system. It is clear it is not working for children and young people and mental health is always the top issue children raise with us. We have a duty to respond when they tell us it’s not good enough.”

The full speech can be found here.



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