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President’s Speech Annual Conference 2019

“We want all children and young people to thrive not just survive, in a country that works for all children”

Leaders of children’s services are committed to working with the Department for Education to achieve a much needed “joined up approach” between the various government departments with responsibility for different aspects of children’s services policy, the President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services said today in Manchester.

Rachel Dickinson used her speech at the ADCS Annual Conference, attended by senior leaders in children and young people services and the Children’s Minister, to reflect on several breakthroughs in children’s rights legislation including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Children Acts of 1989 and 2004. Central to these things is the idea that children’s views, wishes and preferences must be taken into account when making decisions that affect them, but there has been “little evidence of that from our national politicians over the last three years in their quest to achieve Brexit”, and serious domestic social policy issues remain, she said.

Rachel Dickinson continued, one of the most significant principles underpinning the 1989 Act is the welfare of children is paramount, but many of the modern-day challenges faced by children, their families and the services they rely on were unforeseen by those who drafted the Act, 30 years ago. Organised criminal and sexual exploitation, digital dangers and a rise in unaccompanied asylum seeking children, “form part of the new landscape” facing children and families today in addition to a “lack of affordable housing, insecure work” and increasing poverty, she said.

Local authorities have never been “adequately resourced to identify, safeguard, protect and provide other services for children in need and their families” she said before inviting the Minister and the Department for Education, together with ADCS members “to reclaim and resource the core principles of prevention in the 89 Act” and stated that this needs to include “re-visiting the expectations of social work as envisioned by the Act particularly in relation to Section 17”. If we don’t “the most vulnerable in society will continue to bear the brunt of the impact of cuts to local government funding and there will be even fewer social workers available to help”, she said.

On education reforms

“The government’s education reforms have completely lost sight of inclusion. Education is a right for all, not a privilege for some. It’s also an important protective factor in childhood and beyond…The new school inspection framework should shine a bright light on the use of formal and informal exclusions and will hopefully incentivise or better still reward inclusivity and turn the tide on rising exclusions…but I wonder if it might be time to review head teachers’ powers to exclude pupils.”

On special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) pressures

“I know Minister that you understand the sheer scale of the SEND challenges and that an additional £250 million is nowhere near enough, but it’s not just about funding. It’s also about addressing the mis-aligned incentives across partners, it’s about doing something to balance parental preference and the dire state of resources in Tribunal decision-making. Local authorities have all of the responsibilities for maintaining high needs expenditure within budget but no levers with which to affect this. I urge you Minister, in the strongest of terms, to consider a re-booting of local authorities powers to enable us the best strategic commissioner for SEND that we possibly can be.”

On early help and prevention

“Short term cashable savings from early help are not realistic. It’s extremely difficult to make meaningful interventions in the lives of children and their families when mum and dad are worrying about where the next square meal is coming from and whether the rent is going to get paid this month.”

On mental health services

“There’s very little point in vastly improving the early identification of low-level mental health needs when there are no services available to meet those needs. The NHS Long Term Plan simply must reflect the key importance not only of commissioning adequate mental health services for children, but also for speeding up access to diagnostic, therapy and treatment pathways in children’s wider health services.”


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

• The ADCS discussion paper on serious youth violence and knife crime mentioned in the speech can be found on

Under Section 17 Children Act 1989, a child will be considered in need if: they are unlikely to achieve or maintain or to have the opportunity to achieve or maintain a reasonable standard of health or development without provision of services from the local authority; their health or development is likely to be significantly impaired, or further impaired, without the provision of services from the local authority; or they have a disability.

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