Sector must address challenges of agency social work, ADCS President says

In his inaugural speech, the incoming ADCS President called for a national review of children’s mental health services and a more stable social work workforce.

07/04/22

Sector must address challenges of agency social work, ADCS President says

Incoming Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) President Steve Crocker has called on the Government to bring about a more sufficient and stable social work workforce.

Giving a speech at the Museum of London yesterday, Crocker said this would mean tackling the issues surrounding agency social work ‘head on’.

“ADCS is ready to work with Government to achieve significant national change which must include addressing the challenges associated with agency social work head on,” Crocker said. “Profiteering is again becoming an issue and yet we don’t see this happening in other sectors, such as police, health and teaching.”

The Hampshire County Council leader said that social worker numbers must be boosted, but that the sector must also recognise the aspects that were leading to instability in the workforce.

“To really tackle this, we need to recognise some of the drivers of instability, the unintended consequences of authorities under Ofsted and DfE pressure due to performance dips and the impact of knee jerk reactions when things go wrong as well as understanding what works well in other aspects of the public sector.”

Crocker also called for national review of children’s mental health services, pointing to the multi-agency nature of children’s services work and how recent failures in an area – such as the recent case of Child Q – can affect the whole system.
Read more about Child Q: [link]

Calling for ‘radical reform’ of the system, Crocker said that children’s mental health services were too rooted in clinical diagnostics and needed a more child-centred, whole-family and relationships-based solution.

“The alarm has been sounding for some time on the growing mental health concerns amongst children and young people, longer waiting lists, more children reaching crisis point.

“[Services] no longer reflect the needs and preferences of children and young people, particularly after the experience of the last two years,” Crocker said, continuing: “In those last two years we have seen a huge increase in poor mental health and wellbeing amongst children which makes it even more bizarre that the number of bed nights available to treat the most seriously traumatised children has declined rapidly during the same period.”

The new President praised the requirement for Integrated Care Boards to have an executive children’s lead, saying that Integrated Care Systems (ICS) were an opportunity to “achieve greater alignment of place-based governance arrangements across children’s mental health services and local authority service delivery to better meet the holistic needs of children and young people.”

Crocker joked that significant political developments for children’s services – such as the schools white paper, the national SEND review green paper and the final report of the review of children’s social care – were like buses: “you wait all day for a bus and then three come along at once.”

However, there was a stark warning that some challenges have ‘outpaced’ the reviews, such as ‘crisis’ in children’s homes placement sufficiency.

“Let me be clear, profiteering through public money on the basis of meeting children’s care needs is unacceptable.”

Unsurprisingly, the incoming President joined calls from across the sector – and repeated calls from previous presidents – to better fund the system. Acknowledging that there are resources within the system that could be used to better effect, Crocker said that funding must be made available to properly implement reforms from the ongoing ‘once in a generation’ reviews.

“If we are serious about the opportunities presented by the White Paper, Green Paper and the yet to be published independent review, we need to make sure that funding within the system is available to support reform for the benefit of all children, young people and families.”

Steve Crocker OBE is also Head of Children's Services at Hampshire County Council and takes over the reins from Charlotte Ramsden OBE, Strategic Director for People Salford City Council.

The new President also used the speech to pay tribute to colleagues that have sadly been lost over the course of the pandemic, including ‘irreplaceable’ Dave Hill (former ADCS President, as well as DCS for numerous councils including Surrey County Council and Essex County Council), ‘kind-hearted’ Helen Blackman (Nottingham City Council DCS), ‘fabulous’ Carmel Littleton (Islington Council Director of People), and ‘utterly authentic’ ADCS Chief Officer Sarah Caton.

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