Starting a new job, whatever it might be, is a good opportunity to take stock of what is important and identify any challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
A month into my new role as Strategic Director of People at Dudley Council, I find myself reflecting on what needs to be in place if we are to improve our services so they help our children and young people achieve the outcomes that matter to them.
Like many other directors, I’m thinking about a long list of priorities, such as the recruitment and retention of social workers, how we encourage more foster carers to come forward, maintaining our upward curve towards a ‘good’ Ofsted rating and how sustain that performance, forging better relationships with our schools, and many more.
In these circumstances, it would be very easy (and very understandable) for us to retreat into a narrow focus on what our own organisations do. Yet we all know that the way we work with our partners is absolutely crucial in how we address those priorities. As a local authority, we have excellent relationships with a whole host of agencies who help us deliver our services. But, importantly, that kind of system working is just as vital is we are to secure the outcomes for children and young people that we are aiming for.
The issues and challenges facing children are not the same throughout the population and neither are the ways we work with our all of our partners, from the NHS to our foster carers. But by looking at different aspects of what children need, and I think that reflecting on how best to provide that in conjunction with our partners is a much better way to do things than treating all children and young people the same. That kind of systems approach leads to a new way of thinking and a way of working that is much more holistic and productive.
None of these issues are unique to Dudley borough, and this appreciation of the importance of systems thinking is hardly a novel thought, but it is striking that we all seem to struggle with the response. So it’s also about how we learn from each other, as Directors of Children’s Services. If we continue to work together and remember that this is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach to partners or to individuals, which has to be good news for the people who rely on these services.
And, before we find ourselves tempted to be too negative, something that gives me considerable grounds for optimism is that the disposition to think across partnerships and see children and young people as whole people, (challenging and frustrating though they may sometimes be!). This means that we, as DCSs, are perhaps better placed to address this challenge than may be some of our colleagues in other sectors.
We know that changing the organisation chart isn’t the route to success. Putting the individual at the centre of the system is.
Martin is the strategic director for people at Dudley Council which covers adults, children and health services.
Martin Samuels, Chair of ADASS WM & Strategic Director for People, Dudley Council