New ADCS president vows to re-establish the role of local authorities in children’s services

The coalition’s Education Bill is in danger of disregarding local authorities’ contribution to school improvement while its health reforms risk overlooking children altogether, the new president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) has warned.

In an interview with CYP Now, Matt Dunkley said that a major part of his role this year will be working with the government to establish a distinct and clear function for local authorities in relation to children’s services.

He argued that reforms could damage councils’ ability to support schools. “There is a danger that the good work that goes on in local authorities around school improvement is overlooked through omissions in the Education Bill,” he said. “We’re actively engaged with the Department for Education to make sure that does not happen. It recognises we’ve got a role to play – I just think there’s a gap in the bill and we’re asking the government to join up the dots.”

Protection improvements

On the government’s health reforms, Dunkley is similarly determined to voice fellow directors’ reservations.

“There are concerns about how ideas in the special educational needs green paper will involve health, there are concerns about how statutory safeguarding roles are commissioned and who commissions them and about how the commissioning of children’s community health services will work at local level,” he said.

“Children have always been the Cinderella of the health service. Although that has improved, there is a danger that children will fall through the cracks under the new arrangements.”

Dunkley is hopeful that the Munro review into child protection will help improve matters for embattled social work teams by allowing professionals to “operate in an environment where they are not suffocated by an accountability framework”.

The big challenge, he admitted, will be to align Munro’s reforms with a new style of improvement support for children’s services, saying one of ADCS’s main aims this year will be to develop and implement a rigorous model for sector-led improvement.

Dunkley said that while the current pace of change is almost “bewildering”, he plans to tackle both local and national challenges head-on. “All I hope is that I have some control over what defines my presidency,” he said. “The fear that we all have is that something happens that defines you from the outside. I hope that my presidency is defined by being able to provide an authentic and authoritative voice for the children’s services profession.”

He said council reorganisations of children’s services departments must pass certain tests and not be purely driven by cost.

Underused resource

Above all, Dunkley insisted his presidency will be about championing local authority children’s services, “to make sure the interests of children and young people are heard loudly and coherently and that they’re not in any way downgraded”.

“I’d like to develop the relationship with the government and I’d like to have a sense of partnership and joint endeavour with them about how their aspirations for children and young people can be delivered, drawing on the professional expertise that we have,” he said.

“I feel we’ve been a slightly underused resource until now and I’m hoping we can change that.”

Dunkley took over the one-year presidency from Marion Davis on 1 April.