Long-term sustainable support is required by children’s services in order for local authorities to tackle entrenched social and cultural problems as well as the immediate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is the message from the new president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, Charlotte Ramsden in her inaugural address. Acknowledging that there are “knowns and unknows”, the strategic director for people at Salford Council said while there will be long term impacts, good and bad, experienced by children, young people and their families, what is unknown is the degree of the severity and the legacy of the impacts of the pandemic.
Ms Ramsden said that the forthcoming year will present real opportunities to improve support for children and families to achieve the best possible future. “But children are not just our future, they are our NOW. If collectively we don’t get things right now, in the care review, in the SEND review… then they won’t have the future they deserve.”
She added that in order to achieve this, there should be a Long-Term National Plan for Children and Young People in the same way that the NHS has a Long-Term Plan in place. Such a plan should be “ambitious and predicated upon a universal approach to enabling all children to achieve their potential” Ms Ramsden said, “whilst retaining a focus on the poorest and the most vulnerable”.
The independent children’s social care review provides a “once in a generation” opportunity to both build on the successes within the system but also to improve the weaknesses. Better residential care with placements that meet children’s actual needs are needed, although this can be achieved through better commissioning, child-centred practice and regulation that works, she added.
Ms Ramsden went on to praise the work of local government which, she said, has “shown astonishing flexibility and resilience within all of our services.” This has been particularly evident within schools where “local authorities have vital co-ordination, support and challenge roles. In many ways schools and councils have never been closer than we are now as together we’ve worked to keep children in our sight, maximise school attendance, ensure children learning remotely are fed and supported”.
In order to tackle issues emerging from the impact of COVID, partnerships working is key, she added. “Partnerships are in our DNA… with strong partnerships we can be greater than the sum of our parts. Never has that been more evident than over the last 12 months.”
However, central government departments must work together to influence the Treasury and a way to achieve this would be a commitment from the nine different central government departments each of which has some responsibility for some aspect of children’s policy, to join up their thinking and pool their financial resources.
“Please stop the waste of time and money that results from dangling disparate, small, time-limited pots of funding to tackle complex, multi-dimensional and entrenched social and cultural problems,” she said.
Ms Ramsden added: “When I first came to Manchester a very long time ago to study geography at University, I saw for the first time real inner city poverty and I was enraged at the injustice of it, particularly the way it blighted children’s life chances. The burning desire to do something about it changed my career trajectory away from becoming a geography teacher … to training to become a social worker. Now, so many years later, Manchester and Salford are beacons of regeneration. But, poverty is once again, rife, not just here up north, but everywhere. We must shine a light on inequality and do all we can to prevent child poverty becoming an epidemic wrapped up in a pandemic.”
She concluded by outlining one of her key policy priorities for the year ahead: to advocate for the development of a more effective interface – nationally, regionally and locally - with providers of adult health and social care services in the creation of more and seamless 0-25 services for those who need them.
“Together I think we can make sure that the physical, mental and emotional health needs of children and young people are prioritised in ICS developments… The emerging operating model for ICSs… appears to have forgotten children… How can this White Paper have even been conceived of, never mind written, in a child-blind way? As your President I will seek ever closer partnership with health colleagues to meet children’s needs better and together with our friends and colleagues in ADASS and the LGA,” Ms Ramsden concluded.