New boss of children’s directors wants to flex powers over trusts

The new Association of Directors of Children’s Services president has said she favours using the role’s “immense powers” to strengthen children’s services partnerships rather than press for new legislation.

Maggie Atkinson, director of children’s services at Gateshead Council, made the comments after taking up the presidency last week.

Earlier this month, draft statutory guidance on agencies’ duty to co-operate in promoting children’s well-being called for more involvement from schools in children’s trusts. The guidance, released by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, said that schools’ participation was “patchy”. Children’s secretary Ed Balls said he was considering the case for legislation to strengthen arrangements.

Atkinson, a former teacher, said there needed to be clarity about the position of agencies not bound by the duty, such as schools and GPs. But she added: “It would be a step too far too soon to legislate. If I look at the powers of the director of children’s services, they are immense. I don’t think those powers have been properly tested.”

She cited directors’ power to force schools to admit looked-after children, even if they are full. But she added most schools were willing partners and gave examples of schools voluntarily pooling their delegated budgets, which councils cannot touch, to pay for family outreach provision.

Atkinson also said that she expected there to be fewer problems with school admissions next year as the government’s 2007 admissions code, which schools must comply with, starts to have an effect. Earlier this month, Balls said a minority of schools were breaching the code, including its provisions to give priority to looked-after children.

The guidance on agencies’ duties operates under the Children Act 2004.

Atkinson succeeded John Coughlan and John Freeman as ADCS president.

Kim Bromley-Derry, director of children’s services at Newham Council, has been elected vice-president of the ADCS, and will succeed Atkinson next year. Unlike the president, he has a social work background.

Related articles

Essential information on children’s services

Further information

For a full interview with Atkinson, see next week’s Community Care and her vision for her presidential year

Draft children’s trust guidance

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Mithran Samuel


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