Five pieces of advice for children’s services leaders
Emmet Regan sets out five areas of focus for local authority leaders for the next year to get the most out of the government’s response to the Care Review.
Love and stability is what all children need. The government’s response to the Care Review - ‘Stable Homes, Built on Love’ - centres around six pillars of reform, including unlocking the potential of family networks, family help and a highly skilled social worker for every child.
The plans were not greeted with universal support by all. Clear challenges around funding, the scale of the proposed changes and timescale for the changes were among some of the concerns. The Association of Directors for Children’s Services (ADCS) applauded ‘a welcome emphasis on children’s rights and outcomes’ as well as not ‘shying away from the big challenges children, families, public services and society faces… [and] need for significant investment in rebalancing the social care system towards early family support’.
The questions for leaders is now: what should I be doing while the government pilots new change? What about the prospect of a general election and further change in the coming 18 months?
I believe leaders should respond in five ways:
1. Come together and take a stance
Leaders should bring together colleagues from across social work, health, education and the wider public service family to debate and discuss the Review. This should not be discussion for discussion’s sake, but rather a chance to understand the direction of travel within children’s social care reform and what is possible in the coming months.
2. Make sure your voice is heard
The government is eager to hear from people across the system so leaders should respond and engage with their consultation process. This is a real opportunity to shape the current thinking. Policy is always better when it is informed by the ‘real world’.
3. Explore ways to work together closer
The desire to move towards multi-disciplinary teams working together to support families is clear from both the Care Review and the Government’s response. There are a number of approaches in existence that have demonstrated the power of multi-disciplinary working, including Leeds’s ‘Family Valued’, Hertfordshire’s ‘Strengthening Families’ and North Yorkshire’s ‘No Wrong Door’. Work can be done now in advance of any centralised changes, to further deepen and strengthen working relationships.
4. Be alert to new opportunities
Whether it is the government’s commitment to the recruitment of more foster carers or a greater focus on training, there will be opportunities emerging for all local authorities to engage with the Care Review and learn from the pathfinders that will kick off the changes.
5. Plan, Plan, Plan
Developing a plan is crucial. Over the coming months, leaders needs to think about how their authority can respond to change.
As we all know from our experiences working in public services, two things are true: the work is hard and change is inevitable. Talk to anyone within the wider children’s social care system and they will tell you that things have to be done differently, and that change is needed imminently to improve outcomes for the most vulnerable children and young people.
Taking the time to think about how you we respond to the government’s plan is essential. Children’s services leaders need to grasp the nettle and set themselves on a course to make the most of the opportunities that lie ahead. Clarity of purpose, a shared vision among partners and engaging with change is the order of the day. Ultimately, what matters is the outcomes and making love and stability part of all children’s lives.