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Children and childhood must get the priority they deserve

At the beginning of April, I had the privilege of becoming President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services. It’s an honour and a privilege to represent colleagues across the country and to reflect the views of the sector.

It is set to be a lively 12 months, not least because a general election will take place during my presidency.  Whatever the outcome, there is a real opportunity for ADCS to help shape what comes next and keep an unwavering focus on children and families.

Earlier this year, ADCS published a new policy paper, Childhood Matters which provides the perfect summary for any incoming government of the challenges facing children and the public services that support them. It also puts forward tangible solutions for change aimed at each government department with a stake in child and family policy. The paper acts as an urgent call to arms to keep our children and families at the heart of all policy decisions and to invest in them and their futures. It reiterates the Association’s previous calls for a comprehensive vision and plan for childhood accompanied by a long term, sustainable funding settlement.

In my first speech as ADCS President, I talked about something very personal to me. As a former child in care, I cannot overstate the significant impact my social worker had in my life and my career choice. This should serve as a reminder to all working in children’s services that no matter the system challenges we face, we cannot underestimate the impact we can each have on children and families through building meaningful relationships and helping them make positive changes in their lives. A plan for childhood should therefore have a focus on developing our workforce. This means national investment to encourage well suited people into the social work profession, and to keep the ones we have, as well as career long development opportunities and addressing shortages of early years professionals, residential care workers and managers, youth workers and many other dedicated professionals who make a positive difference each and every day.

We also need a national focus on improving children’s outcomes in a systematic way, which pays specific attention to understanding, mitigating, and removing income, health, racial, geographical, and educational inequalities, supported by a comprehensive resourcing and implementation strategy. This must be led from the centre of government giving children and childhood the priority they deserve.

Andy Smith ADCS President 2024/25

This column first appeared in the MJ in May 2024.

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