The Association of Directors of Children’s Services has backed directors’ right to chair local safeguarding children boards and take responsibility for adult social care, after both were called into question by the government.
In draft guidance on the roles of directors and lead members for children’s services, the Department for Children, Schools and Families said councils should not appoint DCSs to adult director roles without “very strong justification”. It also said it would consider revising Working together to safeguard children to ensure LSCB chairs are independent, to prevent conflicts of interest and provide independent scrutiny of safeguarding agencies, including local authorities.
However in its response to a consultation on the guidance, which closed last week, the ADCS said councils were best placed to decide whether a single director should lead adult and children’s services, in accordance with local circumstances. It also said directors should be able to chair LSCBs.
Momentum behind independent chairs
The case for independent LSCB chairs has gained momentum following the Baby P case, because of former Haringey Council director of children’s services Sharon Shoesmith’s leadership of the borough’s LSCB. A joint area review triggered by the case found this contributed to a lack of independent challenge of agencies from the board.
However, ADCS pointed out that local authorities were accountable for the functioning of LSCBs and that scutiny was only one of a number of roles for boards, alongside influencing the behaviour of partners, training and developing local procedures.
In its response, the association said: “While independent chairing may assist in the scrutiny and challenge part of the role, it can be a serious disadvantage in respect of the other parts of the role…[Independent chairs] may lack influence and ability to bring safeguarding into all arenas of concern to the children’s trust.”
Benefits of DCS leadership
It added: “The benefits of the DCS chairing are their ability to act on and be in a wide variety of other parts of the wider governance of children’s services and organisational systems.”
It said there were a number of ways in which concerns around the independence of LSCBs could be addressed without requiring independent chairs, including:-
- Requiring independent chairing of serious case review panels.
- Developing Ofsted’s role in monitoring LSCBs and SCRs.
The issue will be considered in Lord Laming’s review of safeguarding, which is due to report next month and which has already recommended independent chairing of SCR panels.