I recently had the pleasure of speaking at the National Children and Adult Services conference, where I outlined work into children’s services across the country and announced the publication of a new report - Bright Futures: getting the best for children, young people and families.
Making sure all children and young people have the bright future they deserve is a key ambition of every council and if we want the best possible outcomes, children must be at the heart of what we do.
However, it’s no secret that children’s services are under huge pressure nationally, with a predicted funding gap of £20billion by 2020, a 140 per cent increase in child protection enquiries over the past decade and the number of children on plans having almost doubled. We need to take action and we need to take it now.
If children in care numbers, child protection numbers and children in need numbers all continue to rise in line with the increases we’ve seen over the past few years, this funding gap is only going to get bigger.
Towards the end of last year, I was asked to chair a new, cross-party children’s social care task force on behalf of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board. Our remit was to collate evidence around children’s services in England; what’s working well, what isn’t working well and whether we could do more to get the best outcomes for children, young people and families.
We often talk about evidence-based or evidence-informed practice, but I think it’s fair to say this isn’t always central to national policy papers or centrally-led programmes. Therefore, we wanted this process to be different and have worked hard to ensure everything we determined is fully supported by evidence and that any conclusions drawn would be rooted in the true experiences of children, young people, families and professionals from across the sector.
What we’ve ended up with are seven clear priorities for co-ordinated action across the public, community and voluntary sectors. They range from a need for stronger focus on outcomes for children, to the need for consistently strong leadership and a desire to understand what truly works for all children. Some of these priorities we can deliver ourselves in local government and others will require support from central government.
That’s why I’m calling for a cross-Whitehall ambition for children and young people, with all government departments made to think more carefully about the impact their policies will have on children and families. Across the country, a lot of councils are already doing this, so it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect central government to model the kind of behaviour they expect from us.
I’m sure you will agree that the idea of a country that works for all children and families is something we can all support and politics should never get in the way of doing what’s best for children and families. It’s essential that local and national government work together; only through co-ordinated action will we be able to set the groundwork for a country that is serious about getting the best for every child.