We all care passionately about children's services. We know the ins and outs, the policy and the legal detail. Sometimes it's easy to forget that not everyone knows what we know. And if that's the case for our elected members, who are there to help drive and shape our services, then we're going wrong somewhere.
That's why the LGA runs events for elected members who have a role in children's services. Whether as cabinet members, shadow members, chairs or vice chairs of children's services or scrutiny committees, members who sit on corporate parenting boards or who have any form of responsibility for or connection to any services which serve young people. It's our duty to make sure that they all feel informed and able to affect change.
The West Midland's most recent event on 11 July was attended by 23 members, many of whom were new to their roles and impressively, 12 of the 14 local authorities had members attending.
These events are an opportunity for members to come together to discuss the challenges, opportunities and good practice across the region with the aim of strengthening political leadership and engagement. The aims are to provide a forum for discussion and sharing of issues, to put members in touch with others in the region, to give an opportunity to hear about policy issues and changes at a national level, to find out about the work that the LGA is doing to promote issues for councils with national government and to showcase good practice in the region.
While our formal agenda looked at exploring key policy issues and hot topics from the member perspective, what was of most value from the day was the chance to be open and honest about the real challenges we all face. Drawing up policies and creating flow charts might help us deliver on our strategies, but unless members are engaged, understand the complexities of local authority children's services and feel able to contribute themselves, we won't make the progress that our children and young people deserve.
The focus of this event was children's mental health and emotional well-being, with Abigail Gallop, LGA senior policy adviser sharing news of national policy and how this is being implemented in two local authorities in the region. Solihull, Staffordshire and Stoke shared how they are implementing some of these changes in practice, giving members concrete examples of positive practice that they could take away for their own authorities.
We also looked at the current challenges facing local authorities in the region, the challenges of resources and demand, managing budgets - in particular SEND and high need spend - as well as the increasing numbers of looked-after children, the importance of delivering prevention and early help, workforce development and the position of children's services in relation to the business of Health and Wellbeing Boards.
The members we spoke to said how useful these sessions were, allowing them to come together as equals, honestly and openly discussing the issues and challenges they face on a daily basis and drawing on the experience of other councils and members in dealing with these same issues. Many of the newly elected members found the session particularly useful and several of the members (old and new) have taken the information and practice examples that were presented back to their local authorities for a discussion with their heads of service.
These are incredibly useful sessions, where members can share experiences, ask questions and learn new ways of working which can benefit their own local authority and most importantly the children and young people in their care.
Helen Riley is director of families and communities and deputy chief executive, Staffordshire County Council. This blog first appeared on the ADCS website