This year’s National Children and Adult Services conference in Bournemouth was a great, but rare, opportunity for professionals across the sector to share best practice and discuss the challenges we face each day.
A strong theme at the conference was the role of inspection in children’s services and Ofsted led a session on the future of inspection after the single inspection framework (SIF). Whilst the Association of Directors of Children’s Services’ (ADCS) position on this is clear, we recognise that inspection has an intrinsic value and the sector has a responsibility to embrace it. But the system cannot be blind to the resources available and must reflect the role of the local authority within the wider partnerships which support children and families.
Another hot topic was the power of partnership working and innovation in the delivery of services and this was a focal point of many sessions. We heard about the Social Work Matters project, in which 15 local authorities across Yorkshire and the Humber are thinking creatively to find solutions in the face of increased demand for services, continuous budget cuts and the often negative perception of social services in the media. Work so far has involved the creation of an online platform to encourage the recruitment of new social work professionals and an online hub to provide those in the role with the support and resources they need. Children’s social work is complex and the struggle to recruit and retain high quality social workers is felt by us all. Projects like this have the power to inspire the right people into the profession.
Our colleagues in Lincolnshire talked about their work with schools to improve the education of children and young people through their ‘No School Left Behind’ task group. The session outlined motives for reviewing existing school improvement models and provided examples of how sector-led approaches can, and are, being implemented in local areas with great success.
We also heard from the ADCS Educational Achievement Policy Committee about how local authorities are working with a wide range of partners to increase the quality and variety of pathways for further and higher education. The session also shone a welcome spotlight on some highly innovative work that seeks to encourage young people with learning disabilities, who are amongst the most vulnerable, into further education or training.
Against the backdrop of diminishing resources and reducing budgets, it is crucial for local areas to think creatively and pool our efforts in this way so that we can truly meet the needs of the communities that we serve. There is certainly no let-up in the energy that is being applied to this vital task.
Alison O’Sullivan, director of children at Kirklees Council and president of ADCS