A role that needs nurturing

I counted down the days to the National Children and Adult Services Conference (NCAS) this week. I reckon this was my 17th. I reflected on the past year...what’s changed and what lies ahead. Demand for talent within children’s and adult services has been busier than ever, both for permanent and interim placements.

At times we’re handling recruitment to six permanent director of children’s services (DCS) roles across the country. We remind people, often, that we don’t create vacancies. This is done by the system: ‘decoupling’ people directorates back to discreet DCS and director of adult social services (DASS) roles; creating people directorates with a single DASS/DCS; the establishment of new children’s companies or trusts; inadequate (or conversely outstanding) Ofsted outcomes prompting moves to oblivion or national posts (in that order), progression and retirement. These are just some of the factors that contribute to the war for talent for these statutory roles.

The issues driving up demand in social care, sadly, have not improved and, if anything, have escalated. The recently published Local Government Association poll of lead councillors cites an 85% increase in child protection plans over the last decade. Similar pressures face adult services; a ticking timebomb of an ageing demographic, fragile provider market and rising costs.

The top three common issues which I have been asked to focus on during selection interviews in the past year include: l Managing demand and maintaining quality within an ever-reducing resources envelope, particularly around placements and high needs block; and exploring how early help/early intervention strategies can provide some answers l Improving SEND outcomes to meet the requirements of the Children and Families Act 2014 while managing parental/carer expectations l Seeking solutions to youth crime/county lines/gang culture (which seem to have overtaken mental health) I sometimes look at the job specification for a DCS or DASS role and wonder how there are still individuals willing to put themselves forward for these difficult and challenging roles. And they do because these candidates see the positive impact they can make, are passionate about improving lives and know they can make more impact at senior level. They are certainly not in it for the glory.

At interview, we look for evidence around a candidates’ leadership of key agendas, their ability to work with politicians and partners, their successes or indeed lessons learned. But I also look for a good ‘match’ around values and aspirations of the hiring authority, an understanding of communities they will be serving, their ability to role model professional behaviour and personal resilience. There is a scarcity in numbers, but not in talent.

An outcome to Brexit (any outcome) was a topic of conversation at the conference last year – the hope that national Government would get a resolution and move on, allowing renewed focus on much needed policy agendas such as funding for social care, housing, education and the NHS. We will be repeating the debate again this year but with a more damaged country, fractured communities and people who are poorer, financially and socially, as a result.

Local authorities will continue to show community leadership and directors will still deliver under these difficult circumstances. Hats off to them.

Maggie Hennessy is director, Penna Public Sector Executive Search and social care lead

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