A look at young people's services

Alison O’Sullivan. President, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS)

Head-shot of the author, Alison O’Sullivan. President, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS)

This is a version of a speech that Alison gave when she spoke to SCIE staff in January 2016. Alison is also Director for children and young people, Kirklees Council.

Let’s not beat around the bush. The situation on the frontline is dire. Not only are non-statutory services being cut, but there’s even a concern that soon, we won’t be able to adequately fund core services. This is the same for children’s services and adult services and the same for every council in England.

I’ve been around the block over the last 39 years and I’ve seen rounds of cuts before; but I’ve never seen cuts on this scale, with this rapidity and being this sustained.

However, I see all of this as a massive opportunity to draw from best practice more than ever before. Organisations like SCIE have a pivotal role to play. There’s room for creativity and integration of services. I’m not saying that it’s always going to save resources – although it might do – but I do think that when the chips are down, best practice is the golden thread we must hang on to.

I see creativity with health services happening with adult services, where I have spent lots of those 39 years. But I don’t see it happening so much in my current area of work: children’s services. It might sound counter-intuitive, but children are sometimes less of a priority for the health service and this creates real challenges. Thinking more broadly about innovation across the whole system.

I said in a recent blog for the ADCS website that if we are to make even better use of regional expertise of authorities working together in a collaborative way, then we will need to orchestrate this in a more systematic way.

The approach in Yorkshire and Humberside typifies this. Our approach to collaborative improvement has been the premise that collectively we are only as good as our worst performing authority. The sector helping itself is a crucial way to drive up quality and to support every child in the region so that they can have a better quality of life.

I wonder how much the decentralising motivation from local government is likely to play a part in the future? The Manchester devolution plans, which will see health and social care much more joined-up and responsive to each other, does include children but again, the onus and media coverage seems to be on adult social care. Children deserve to benefit from new devolution deals too!

After the Rotherham sexual abuse scandal there was over the past few years something of a crisis of confidence about children’s services. But I’ve noticed that the public is beginning to understand that it’s not as simple as blaming social workers when something goes wrong. There is a whole system of public service staff that come into contact with vulnerable children and this is complex and difficult work.

There has been better quality debate but the media continues to batter the sector. We have to grow a thicker skin, believe in ourselves and defend ourselves more robustly. And we have to show how we do things well.

So there is plenty to do and my opening lines could lead us all to give in to a counsel of despair. But we are a resilient lot and so there are developments, including those for regional collaboration over services, which are really exciting. And who knows, in a few years’ time, we could look back and find that we did some of our best work when the chips were down.

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