Since becoming a director of children's services in May 2010, I've never known a time when we haven't had to make difficult decisions due to budget cuts and rising need for our help. Working in a relatively low-funded local authority means that we have had to ‘transform' our services on a regular basis, and as the Revenue Support Grant has dwindled we have had to become ever more skilful at chasing opportunities to bid for short term, time limited pots of money from here, there and everywhere. However, there still isn't enough money in the system. It is true that out of adversity comes opportunity - our staff take chances, put themselves out there and as a result we have some brilliant ‘supporters' from people working in academia and charities, as well as the invaluable work from Research in Practice, who go the extra mile to help us become the best we can be. Their enthusiasm and respect for what we're striving to achieve sustains us when the going gets tough - especially when we get positive tweets!
In North Somerset, we are very fortunate to have Dr Karen Treisman working with us again on developing our trauma informed and trauma responsive system. I found the first day both affirming and painful. Affirming because when listening to my colleagues around me, I felt proud to be able to play a part in creating the conditions for them to work sensitively with children and their families from a strengths-based perspective. But it's also painful to hear about children's trauma, how we can sometimes retraumatise them, albeit unintentionally, and then to reflect on the fact that the environment in which we practice grows ever more challenging, as budgets reduce and need increases.
Through ADCS we continue to highlight the very real pressures that children's services and, crucially, children and families themselves face and the need for sustainable and equitable long-term investment in children. We want a country that works for all children, one that recognises the importance of investing in them and their families because it's the right thing to do, sadly, I don't see much evidence that things are going to change any time soon at a national level. Back in North Somerset, on our journey to becoming a trauma informed and trauma responsive organisation, it's likely to be an intricate, testing process but because we all believe it's the right thing to pursue for our children and families, we'll do it and I thank Karen Treisman and my colleagues for bringing us the opportunity.
"When a flower doesn't bloom you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower." (Alexander Den Heijer). Because we're committed to achieving better outcomes for our children and families we'll never give up trying, despite all of the challenges - it's what they deserve.
Sheila Smith is director of people, North Somerset Council. This blog first appeared on the ADCS website