A response to Children in Charge from Andrew Rome, Revolution Consulting (View Andrew's LinkedIn page).

Kathy’s paper contains a raft of challenging ideas. They deserve our attention, our consideration and to be challenged in return.

We are reminded in this paper that we have as a nation taken upon ourselves a statutory duty to step into the parental role for children where their own natural parents should not, or cannot be their carer or best advocate.

Speaking purely from my own experience, being a parent is the role that I feel challenges me to be the best person, the best adult I can be. It requires me to understand my own limitations, and to understand that my own bias comes from my personal perspective and history and therefore does not always contain all of the experience to provide all of the answers to all of the questions. A collaborative approach with others is essential.

Being the corporate parents to children in need similarly requires us all to be the best version of ourselves in the roles we perform in this sector, and to accept that none of us alone holds all the answers.

I arrived into the social care and education sector from private sector industries where products and services were developed through streamlined research and development and delivered in precise quantities and qualities to meet customer needs at the right place and time. Financial efficiency for all parties was sought fairly ruthlessly at all times.

Within days of that arrival I began to realise that here was a sector operating very differently from anything I had ever experienced. Nothing I have seen in the last two decades would convince me that, given the opportunity, we would design the sector we have now as the best way to effectively and efficiently meet the needs of looked after children.

That’s not to say I’m critical of the people who work in the sector. Quite the reverse. I am often moved by the examples that can be found of people showing commitment and relentless positivity in adversity in the arena. This includes people working in service provider organisations, local authority professionals who work daily to hold it all together, regulators and even politicians.

Money does flow into the sector from the public purse, and it does create some of the power structure that Kathy describes. However imperfectly it operates as a market, there are times when supply and demand are far from balanced. I’ve seen times when local authority buyers have largely been able to dictate price, but also examples where local or special conditions of demand / supply imbalance have put the provider / supplier in the more powerful position in that negotiation.

It is however very clear that, when the total funding coming into the sector is restricted or reduced, there are many fractious interfaces where the relationships can break down. I’m often struck that, instead of uniting to fight the corner for the looked after child, we see parties entrenching to old positions and attacking one another within the sector, looking in and fighting one another when looking out to see the bigger role is of far greater importance.

The quantum of spending on looked after children is substantial but not in comparison to many other public sector services. The numbers of looked after children are worryingly increasing, but are not so high that one national view is unachievable. In fact, for some of the low incidence, but high acuity complex cases, having a national view of patterns of need and demand would greatly facilitate a national commissioning strategy to meet those needs. Fragmenting the view to 152 local authorities in England, and then partly and inconsistently aggregating at regional and sub-regional levels, seems to mitigate against being able to form the national view at all.

The suggestion of a separation of funding from social work responsibility will raise concerns of an open-ended cheque book and a lack of financial accountability.  We must work through some more detailed ideas of how such an approach might work in practice. The very act of doing so might lead us to better solutions than we have right now.

So let’s accept the challenge of discussing Kathy’s paper, accept none of us has the whole answer, applaud those who try to see the bigger picture and put forward ideas to be shot at, and come together to see where the challenge leads us. Let’s be the best we can be together.