The leadership and provision of children’s services was something of a hot topic at the recent Solace conference in Liverpool.
Concerns were expressed about fractured systems and inter-agency accountability with a keen focus on the role of the director of children’s services. It is almost 10 years since the creation of this role and I am sure there will be further comments on this subject; particularly in this period of budget setting and post-Rotherham soul searching.
Some chief executives have questioned whether services to children have been ‘too protected’ or if established orthodoxies about assessing needs are too narrow.
The view has been expressed that the ADCS view of the assessment of children was “narcissistic nonsense” proposing instead that a headteacher’s assessment would probably be better than that of a trained social work professional, and that we need greater competition in the provision of children’s social care services.
Most commercial providers in the provision of children’s services over the past decade have largely been related to fostering, adoption and residential homes. There has also been some ‘hidden’ outsourcing of the supply and training of social workers through the heavy reliance on recruitment agencies.
Many people have asked why decisions made by adult social workers about the life of an individual can be carried out by a commissioned non-local government body but those affecting children cannot.
Children’s social care systems are very complex and among the highest-risk services that a local authority provides. The ADCS does not baulk at the thought of change or engaging in a serious discussion about the evolution of these services.
The need to find new ways of intervening earlier to prevent increasing numbers entering the system is a debate that will benefit from the widest scrutiny. New models of delivering social work, including child protection, outside a local authority are few but two are currently charting new ground; Achieving for Children in Kingston-upon-Thames and Richmond, and the Doncaster Children’s Services Trust.
The first example is of two authorities agreeing to combine their arrangements while the second is a not-for-profit, independent company, (created by direction of the secretary of state), providing most of the council’s social care services to children. It may well be the case that these are the harbinger of a new model for others to follow, voluntarily.
Financial pressures alone should not stand in the way of innovation and meaningful change. It is sensible for local government to think deeply and openly about new, streamlined arrangements and structures to improve outcomes for vulnerable children, young people and their families.
But we must remember that the platform we build is still one of the safest systems for protecting children in the world.
Alan Wood, president, Association of Directors of Children’s Services, and director of children’s services, Hackney LBC