In almost half of the councils in my region there are temporary/interim arrangements at the director of children’s services level. And now I have my own gap to fill.
So why is this? While I don’t have a piece of authoritative research to draw on, I do have my director of children’s services resignation letter. I am advised she will be the 44th director to change or leave their post in the past year.
So, what’s going on? Well, principally, it would appear a lack of respect and recognition: not within the local government family but at the national level. My escapee has experienced attitudes and expectations that are “beyond reasonable” and are creating “a climate that is crushing”.
Only an individual’s view of course, but from what I pick up it seems to have resonance.
So, what is to be done?
First, we need a public debate about what society can reasonably expect when it comes to assurance about safeguarding and who is responsible for what - parents, professionals and society as a whole. Child protection is poorly understood. This needs to be addressed.
Second, we need to think differently about how professionals are trained. There is little interdisciplinary training - teaching, social work, youth work, health visiting seem to plough their own furrows. The same still goes for many leadership development offers.
Third, we need to think about what a sustainable leadership development programme looks like. The Virtual Staff College is running a tapering programme of development for directors and ‘aspirants’ so we need an exit and forward strategy that the whole of the sector - the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, the LGA and Solace - supports and contributes to.
Fourth, we should start a dialogue about whether or not the 2004 construct of children’s services and the director of children’s services role is relevant and sustainable. Every Child Matters has long gone and has been replaced by different directions of travel for both education and children’s social work services. Add in troubled families, health and social care integration, the imperatives around skills and employment, and it seems we need to think not just about the best form of future leadership development, but also the shape of the roles that we need to train people for.
Finally, most of all we need encouragement to lead. If local government is to have the quality of senior leadership our communities deserve, we all - government departments, Ofsted and the sector itself - need to talk up the benefits, challenges and opportunities of working for a council. We need to create an environment in which aspiration is nurtured.
Mark Rogers, chief executive, Solihull MBC