Charlotte Ramsden, President, Association of Directors of Children’s Services
Over the coming weeks the country may be finally out of lockdown. If so it would be tempting to refer to that period as ‘post-Covid’ where we can focus on recovery but we know Covid remains and “living with Covid” is our future. For children and young people, the word ‘recovery’ takes on a pertinent meaning, especially as getting education recovery right will be so important for their futures. Beyond education, we know that more families are relying on the support of children’s services, particularly early intervention, and their needs are becoming more complex. Responding to this will take time, local collaboration and resource. Yet despite the myriad challenges, there will also be opportunity for meaningful change.
When I first started as ADCS president in April, I said that it was time to reset our ambition for and with our children, that we need to think big and bold and then focus on a clear long-term plan and commitment, with sustainable investment in them and their lives. The long-term impacts that the pandemic will have on children and young people cannot be understated and so we must think long-term if we are to truly “Build Back Better”.
We are now operating in a very different context with the needs of children and families becoming more complex. This is partly due to some key factors such as the significant rise in the number of families now living in poverty and the prevalence of domestic abuse increasing during lockdown. Indeed, it is estimated that a further 200,000 children alone were pulled into poverty in 2020. The stark differences between disadvantaged children and their more affluent peers have never been more pronounced.
Recovery will of course take many years, but there is much we can do in a short space of time by committing to children’s futures. Firstly, the government must recognise the value of and provide long-term investment in early help and intervention services. We have long known the value of early help but we have struggled to sustain it due to shrinking resources. Instead, tough decisions have had to be made about how short term funding is allocated and often the services most at risk are those addressing the root causes of problems children and their families face before they reach crisis point.
Secondly, education recovery must look beyond just achieving academic success, but also at how we can provide the best local wrap around support for our children. Joint working between schools, health and children’s services will be key. Certainly, one of the many things Covid has taught us is the vital role of local government in education and how agile it can be in meeting children’s broad needs.
And finally, we need to see a commitment to joined up working, across government departments, to support vulnerable adolescents. This is a big priority for ADCS, and we will focus on excellent relationship-based, trauma informed practice and seek ever closer partnership with health colleagues to meet children’s needs better. This must also be replicated at the national level.
There are of course many other important steps we can take both in the short and long-term. The independent review of children’s social care provides potential opportunities for lasting change and the review’s Case for Change calls for a vision for children’s social care. We think this should go further and be part of a coherent and strategic long-term plan for childhood from the early years through school and adolescence to adulthood. If we are serious about recovery ‘post-covid’ then children and young people must be at the forefront of all of our thinking.