When a colleague was recently appointed as a director of children’s services I sent him an email to congratulate him which said “congratulations…I think”.
While delighted for him, it is hard to think of a more challenging role in local government. When we had directors of education and of social services, the world somehow seemed a simpler place. Yes, there were frustrations and we constantly talked about the need to think about children in their entirety rather than silos but the DCS role isn’t a hybrid of those two things. It is so much more. As well as being the most challenging role in local government, it has by far the biggest potential to be the most rewarding.
One question that I’ve been asked many times is whether a DCS needs to come from an education or a social care background. Clearly, a background in either may give you confidence, particularly when things go wrong. However, there are some fantastic directors who don’t come from either background so clearly it’s not a pre-requisite to doing a great job.
Given the conversations I have been having with a number of local authorities recently, even if we thought it was a desirable requirement now, coming from either background may come way down the list of requirements in the future.
More authorities are turning their attention to the possibility of alternative service delivery models for delivering either parts or all of their children’s services in the future. Funding pressures play some part, performance concerns are taxing others and for some it is just an opportunity to imagine a different way of delivering services.
The government is also clearly keen to encourage these types of discussions. The Prime Minister refers to this as “breaking state monopolies”; the reality is that the fractures of such a break will run deep and potentially right through the middle of the DCS role.
Is it possible that if the DCS of the future finds themselves in more of a strategic commissioning role, the value will be placed on commercial, commissioning and financial management skills rather than sector expertise.
I’ve no doubt that some of the current cohort of directors will thrive in this sort of arrangement. Others may struggle. Skills gaps can be bridged and we’re good as a sector at evolving and adapting to new ways of working.
What mustn’t change, regardless of which delivery models we end up with, is that the core business must still remain child- or young-person focused. The key for a burgeoning new service model should surely be to retain the spirit and ethos that has held it together so far. In this respect our current sector leaders are eminently well qualified.
Amanda Kelly, executive director, iMPOWER