ADCS presidency to be focused on recovery

Derren Hayes
Tuesday, April 27, 2021

New ADCS president for 2021/22 Charlotte Ramsden sets out her key priorities and how she will apply a collaborative style of leadership.

Charlotte Ramsden is director of people at Salford City Council
Charlotte Ramsden is director of people at Salford City Council

Charlotte Ramsden, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) president in 2021/22, is under no illusions as to the extent of the “immense” challenges she and children’s services face over the coming 12 months.

Aside from the continuing challenges of Covid-19, there is the impact of rising child poverty, youth unemployment and increasingly stretched council budgets she and the association’s members will need to grapple with.

In terms of priorities, Ramsden picks out investment in early help, the plight of young people with a range of vulnerabilities and boosting education alongside responding to key reviews into children’s social care, special educational needs and disabilities, and the funding of public services over the next three years (see below).

Ray Jones, emeritus professor of social work at Kingston University, says the coming year promises to be “as challenging as any for an ADCS president”.

“In these difficult times it is even more important that those leading children’s services stay informed about and close to frontline practice and workers and are willing to speak truth to power about the awful impact of austerity,” he says.

As vice-president to Jenny Coles in 2020/21, Ramsden has seen first-hand how the association has battled to ensure children and young people’s needs were not forgotten amid the understandable focus on the health service and social care for older people in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

While Coles’ year was spent firefighting, Ramsden hopes the emphasis of the next 12 months can be about recovery.

Resetting ambitions

“This year has to be about resetting our ambitions for children and young people,” says Ramsden, who is director of people at Salford City Council.

“It has to be our big focus – for families, communities and nationally. These are our children and it is our privilege to meet their needs. Supporting them to have a successful childhood; understanding the impact of trauma; and focusing on the most vulnerable.”

In her last blog as ADCS president, Coles praises Ramsden’s “awesome passion for improving children’s outcomes” adding that she will apply “energy and determination” to the challenges the role presents.

“I’ve always been passionate about achieving the best outcomes for children’s lives,” says Ramsden, who was a social worker and child protection co-ordinator in Salford before moving to neighbouring Trafford to become DCS. Returning to Salford in 2014 was a “calling”, she adds. “It is a proud city but there are lots of challenges.”

One former colleague said she set a “good example of what good management looked like”.

“She was directive but also understood the issues facing children and their families and was compassionate to that fact but overall her job was to safeguard children which came first,” the former colleague adds.

Ramsden describes her approach to leadership as influencing through collaboration and partnership working. It is an approach she has honed in regional government, where DCSs from the 10 Greater Manchester councils have worked together to improve the health and social care of children city-wide. This distributed leadership model sees each DCS take the lead on specific policy areas, with Ramsden taking an almost oversight role.

The approach has helped create a children and young people’s plan for Greater Manchester which has gained support from an array of agencies and partners, including mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham. The vision sets out a collective ambition for what the system wants children to achieve and the support that will be put in place to help them do that.

It has also been accompanied by a willingness for agencies to invest. The Greater Manchester health and social care partnership has pumped significant funding into early years and children’s mental health, while £7.43m came through the Children’s Social Care Innovation programme to support more families with early help and work intensively with children and young people on the edge of care.

Improved outcomes

Ramsden says the impact of this approach is now starting to be seen in improved outcomes in young children’s development, reductions in the need for care and better engagement with children and young people. On a personal level, Ramsden’s contributions to improving outcomes for children and young people in Greater Manchester were recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours last year when she was awarded an OBE (officer of the order of the British empire).

She says the ADCS presidency, like the OBE, is an “honour” that would not be possible without the support of her “brilliant team in Salford”.

“I have a huge sense of imposter syndrome,” she adds in modest fashion.

CHARLOTTE RAMSDEN NEW ADCS PRESIDENT’S VIEWS ON SIX KEY PRIORITIES

Review of Children’s Social Care

“Expectations for the review are so high but nobody is going to agree with everything that is said; it can’t please everybody. We need to focus on our unique contribution: systems leadership, improving outcomes for children and sharing good practice. Residential care is a huge challenge and we welcome the Competition and Markets Authority review of the sector. It is not going to provide a universal blueprint but hopefully better ways of working.”

Education recovery

“Helping children recover lost education as a result of the pandemic is just so important. I support the wrap around partnership arrangements between schools, health and children’s services as part of the education recovery programme. Covid has shown national government how agile local government can be to meet children’s broad needs.”

Early help funding

“It is an important time for early help with the publication of the Leadsom Review on early child health and the renaming of the Troubled Families programme to Supporting Families and the extension of funding. We must invest in early help in a variety of forms and it needs to be sustainable and on a realistic timescale. Too often investment is linked to political cycles – we need a longer-term view that measures progress through reaching milestones along the way.”

Review of SEND services

“It’s been a really difficult time for parents and unmet needs will emerge. It’s inevitable financial pressures on councils will increase. We want children to attend mainstream schools local to their home where possible and not to be going to residential schools hundreds of miles away. Investment needs to be multi-agency and the involvement of health is really important in that.”

Vulnerable teenagers

“From mental health problems to serious youth violence, I’m concerned about vulnerable teenagers. It is a cross-government issue and there is a shared priority and ambition across departments to tackle it. We’re going to need to build on what works and invest in that to make a difference for these children.”

Comprehensive Spending Review

“We’re pressing for a more sustainable approach to resources that will enable us to invest in best practice that makes a difference. So much of children’s services funding is short term and linked to innovation bids. Such uncertainty in the system makes it very difficult to plan. One of the things we have more of now is evidence about what interventions work best, for example the No Wrong Door model of practice. What it is about now is harnessing all that evidence in a way that the Treasury understands.”

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