Reflections on ADCS Conference - Dame Christine Lenehan

Dame Christine Lenehan, Director of Council for Disabled ChildrenAuthor Dame Christine Lenehan, Director of Council for Disabled ChildrenDate 14 Jul 2017

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) Annual Conference in Manchester. The conference brings together senior officers from across England to look at the key issues facing local authorities. It was therefore really pleasing that SEN had a key workshop spot.

We started by listening to the new Minister, Robert Goodwill, who referred to SEN and the reforms a number of times in his speech. His message was that the reforms were important, they had to continue and that leadership was key. This, of course, is a key theme coming out through all of the inspection reports.

Robert Goodwill MP at ADCS 2017

Next was the workshop itself where the focus was very much on planning, data and innovation. East Sussex County Council told us about how they have been developing work on forecasting the numbers of children with SEN in their population. This sounds obvious, but it’s not something we are seeing everywhere. It is critical that Local Authorities know what children they have in their population and what their needs are, otherwise we see poor, reactive decision making. By being able to know its population with confidence, East Sussex has been able to get funding for three special free schools to support its changing population.

We then looked at regional work in the East Midlands on identifying children who are in out of authority placements. It’s work we have used as part of the Residential Special Schools review, and again looks at understanding who children are and what their needs are. The goal is to understand how to provide the best education and support for children closest to home and whether we need to think differently about how to do this. We then looked at an excellent service in Hertfordshire, PALMS (Positive behaviour, Autism, Learning disability and Mental health), which works with children whose behaviour challenges to support them to be part of their community.

The workshop was a really good opportunity to listen to some excellent practice and engage in discussion with people trying to make a difference. The real challenges remain the same: a lack of funding, a level of rising need and an increased complexity of the challenges people are dealing with.

ADCS President Alison Michalska

Those same challenges mean that we are forced to think creatively and to look at some different solutions. Should we look more at value for money and outcomes for children and young people?

Does this mean we should have more sub regional commissioning? Should we develop truly 24-hour services around schools that include short breaks and family support? Should we look at behaviour that challenges differently? And should we look at how we work with schools to ensure children remain engaged and valued?

The day raised many interesting thoughts and questions. As ever, it’d be good to have your views!

You can view Dame Christine's slides from the day below, as well as a Storify of the proceedings.