‘A passion for doing his best for vulnerable children’: tributes paid to Dave Hill following death

Hill leaves legacy of turning round children's services and "inspirational leadership" over 15 years as a director

Dave Hill
Dave Hill, director of children's services, Surrey County Council

Story updated 25 June 2020

Tributes have been paid to Dave Hill after the Surrey director of children’s services sudden death at the age of 61.

Hill was one of sector’s most recognisable faces, gaining a reputation for turning round children’s services during a 15-year career as a director at four authorities. This followed a long social work career – he qualified in 1983, having started work in a children’s home in 1977.

Joanna Killian, Surrey’s chief executive and also Hill’s boss at his previous authority, Essex County Council, described him as “an amazing colleague and friend”.

“At the heart of it he was just a great guy whose passion in life was his family – wife Jo, and daughters Laurel and Lydia whom he adored – and doing the very best he could for vulnerable children. My heart goes out to his family and to all his colleagues and staff who I know will be as devastated as I am that we have lost this amazing, talented man.

“His passion for doing the right thing by children and just getting things done shone through and he was the architect of the most brilliant transformation I have ever seen. He worked so hard and I know that his inspirational leadership, sheer energy and drive put us in the position we are today, with a service we can be proud of.”

Transformation specialist

The transformation Killian referred to was Hill’s role in turning round Surrey following two ‘inadequate’ ratings from Ofsted after taking on the DCS role in April 2018, shortly after the inspectorate had said that “too many of the most vulnerable children in the county are being left exposed to continuing harm for long periods”

A monitoring visit in December 2019 illustrated how far things had changed since, with inspectors saying senior leaders had made “substantial progress” in improving its response to children at significant risk and those receiving service through radically reduced caseloads, strong oversight and many more permanent staff, underpinned by the family safeguarding practice model.

This approach – which involves domestic abuse, mental health and substance use practitioners working alongside children’s social workers to tackle the root causes of harm to children in families – embodied Hill’s philosophy of intervening early to prevent children needing to be in the state’s care.

His role in turning round Surrey followed a longer transformation of Essex, where he spent eight years as director, bringing it from ‘inadequate’ to the brink of an ‘outstanding’ grade in 2019, achieved the year after he left.

Hill’s improvement focus also extended to other authorities, acting as government-appointed commissioner for Norfolk and Birmingham Children’s Trust, which improved from longstanding ‘inadequate’ status to ‘requires improvement’ under his watch.


Hill was also a champion of social work after he went into senior management, joining the board of the College of Social Work during its existence and promoting direct work during his time as Essex.

In 2018 he was awarded a CBE for his services to children’s social care and he also spent a year as president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services in 2015-16.

Surrey council leader Tim Oliver said: “Dave was a tower of a man who was held both in respect and affection by those who worked with him at Surrey and across the whole of children’s services.

“He was thoughtful, inspirational, committed and self-deprecating. He will be irreplaceable.”

‘A focus on love’

Association of Directors of Children’s Services chief officer Sarah Caton said she was “devastated” to hear the news about Hill.

“A big man with a big heart and an even bigger talent, Dave was a charismatic and inspirational leader,” she said. “Dave’s presidential year was unique and will always be remembered for its focus on ‘love’, based on the simple premise that all children deserve to be and to feel loved by those who care for and work with them. Dave also cared passionately about changing the narrative about the care system in England.”

His former council, Essex, also paid tribute.

“Dave will be remembered for his enthusiasm and for the leadership and support he gave to his colleagues,” said chief executive Gavin Jones. “His presence and strength of personality, and his commitment and passion for everything connected with children’s services, adult social care and education will be greatly missed.”

‘He understood what eye-wateringly good services looked like’

Going back to an earlier phase of his career, when he was assistant director of children’s services at Tower Hamlets council from 2000-05, the then social services director Ian Wilson said: “The transformation of Tower Hamlets children’s social care services from arguably the worst in the country to arguably the best, was led by Dave and delivered by the extraordinary team that he attracted to the borough.

“He understood, better than anyone I ever met, what eye-wateringly good services looked like. He unfailingly, and good heartedly pursued that standard wherever he went.”

Alongside his time at Tower Hamlets, Hill undertook the director’s role at two London boroughs, Croydon and Merton. Paying tribute on behalf of the Association of London Directors of Children’s Services, its chair, Martin Pratt, said: “Words are inadequate to express the sense of loss that London Children’s Services and the DCS community feel at the very sad news of Dave Hill’s untimely passing.

“His kindness, compassion and deep commitment to improving outcomes for children are examples to us all.”

Hill has received further tributes on Twitter from children’s minister Vicky Ford, fellow directors and current and former colleagues:

More from Community Care

10 Responses to ‘A passion for doing his best for vulnerable children’: tributes paid to Dave Hill following death

  1. Ken Rogers June 24, 2020 at 1:59 pm #

    Dave was a lovely man to work with. So sorry to hear this awful news

  2. Hilton Dawson June 24, 2020 at 2:55 pm #

    I liked Dave Hill.
    He was a good man with a great commitment to children & families & social work over many years. Although he held a number of senior positions he was down to earth, good natured & always approachable. We were on different sides when BASW battled the College of Social Work, but I never lost respect for him or doubted his sincere commitment to doing what he thought was right.
    I am very sorry to hear that he has died.
    My sincere condolences to his family.

  3. Afzal Ahmed June 24, 2020 at 9:49 pm #

    I never met Dave Hill but admired his skills in turning around services to give the vulnerable in society a better chance. My sincere condolences to his family

  4. Neelam Bhardwaja June 25, 2020 at 12:26 pm #

    Truly a devastating news; Dave was an inspirational leader, professional and a person. Always provided a listening ear and measured guidance. Will very much miss our conversations.

  5. Nora Duckett June 25, 2020 at 3:46 pm #

    He was a ‘top bloke’, he really was – he grasped quickly what mattered for children and he used his authority to make sure this came first. He worked for Westminster in the mid 80s when I was there as a family support worker and it was only good things I heard about him. Later he helped me enormously in my work on two occasions, in 2000s, trying to get changes in practice for children running away from home and care. He didn’t forget and I wont forget him. For me he represents what is possible; a senior manager with integrity and vision. He will be so greatly missed. Sincere condolences to his family.

  6. Hannah Miller June 25, 2020 at 5:49 pm #

    Totally shocked to hear of Dave’s death. Dave was a fellow Executive Director (DCS) in Croydon and always a very supportive colleague with a great sense of humour. He was a passionate advocate for children and achieved so much through improvement of services in different authorities. He will be greatly missed . My sincere condolences to his wife and daughters.

  7. Steve Horton June 26, 2020 at 4:55 pm #

    Dave Hill a great man indeed, and a lovely caring human being so talented in many ways. I was lucky enough to be a friend of his since 1977 working with him in our first jobs in social Work, and Melanie Klien House in Greenwich some years later, we kept in youch and met up on a regular basis down the years.
    My thought are with his wife Jo and daughters Laural and Lydia at this time.
    Dave my friend you will be missed so much by so many, and never forgotten . RIP Dave

  8. Lin Pearce June 26, 2020 at 8:16 pm #

    So sad to hear this news. I have read the accolades given from people who have worked with him. I consider you very fortunate to have clearly worked with a man you describe as inspirational In working with children. It sounded like he never forgot his roots which sadly isn’t always the case in today’s society.
    The way you have described him is a huge accolade to his work with children. Clearly he will be sorely missed as one of the great social workers who never lost sight of the children despite his position he reached

  9. Andrew Foster June 26, 2020 at 10:50 pm #

    I did not know Dave Hill. However, his authenticity and the regard in which he he was doubtlessly held by his colleagues, remind me pointedly that I was consistently ‘unfortunate’ never to have had the opportunity to work with such a well respected ‘colossus’ of a human being as evidenced by the comments of others who had direct experience of this man.

  10. Opallady June 27, 2020 at 1:25 am #

    Never met David
    However, he sounds like a wonderful human being who was passionate about social work.

    RIP David, condolences to your family. You will not be forgotten.