Evolution or revolution?

Christine Lenehan, CDC DirectorAuthor Christine Lenehan, CDC DirectorDate 09 Sep 2014

I’ve spent so much of my life watching disabled children being treated differently, people not understanding that they have a voice, not understanding that they have something valuable to contribute.

I think what drives me is a passion for their humanity and that drive and that passion have never gone away.

I started working with disabled children and young people when I was 16, as volunteer at a long stay mental health institution. From that point I knew I wanted to be a social worker, but for reasons I probably didn’t understand; I was young and I wanted to change the world. For the next 38 years I continued to work in the sector. I’ve never looked back and I’ve loved every minute of it.

Working in this sector, I’ve met so many fantastic children and young people with amazing stories and these experiences made me realise, or cemented my belief, that there is a very clear need for justice, for inclusion, for acceptance, for belonging.

My love for the sector has also been about working with parents. Disability affects families from all walks of life and in all different ways and, in practice, all any parent ever wants is the same for their child as any other parent does. Yet we have had a system that seems to have prevented them from achieving this.

Change is uncomfortable 

We have had a system in place for years that has been problematic in the way it has operated. I think one of the things that has got clearer and clearer to me over time is that no one part of the system can deliver the solution on its own.

The needs of disabled children cannot be fully met by just education, just health, or just social care. Children and their families get the very best outcomes when those agencies work together and focus on the needs of the child so, to me, it’s the potential of the new approach to achieve this that is very exciting.

I think above all the reforms bring a new start. For too long the language of SEN and disability has been negative. To refocus that conversation on positive outcomes is an exciting prospect.

I’ve said this before but, in my opinion, one of the most significant parts of the Children and Families Act are the principles set out in Section 19 which, in effect, ask- ‘what can this child achieve?’, ‘how are we going to make sure they achieve it?’, ‘how are we going to work in partnership to make sure they can achieve it?’

For me this means giving people information, giving them choice, having an honest dialogue and putting the outcomes at the heart of process.

The challenges

But could you introduce a piece of law at a worse time? Probably not. We have massive budget cuts in local authorities; health services are under huge pressures; schools are responding to a plethora of changes; and we have an election coming up next year.

But if there’s one thing our sector is known for that is for our resilience and creativity and our ability to rise to a challenge.

Undoubtedly we will adapt to the reforms, we will get used to the new processes and we will learn the detail of law. But I believe our biggest challenge is the way that we respond to the changes and apply them in a meaningful way that brings positive outcomes for children, young people and their families.

So I think some of the challenges will not just be about money and structures, which will be the things that people tell us about, but they will also be about workforce development, confidence and culture and that’s why I think it will take a while for us to see what this Act can really deliver.

What about CDC?

I think that it is very clear that at CDC we do not see the 1st of September as a full stop; we see it as the beginning of a process. The law is now being implemented and the issue next is how to make what we have, work for the children, young people and families.

At CDC this will mean providing a range of support. We are about to launch an implementation package to support health staff; the National Parent Partnership Network has a new remit to support the PPS as they move to become IAS Services; and we are working on some more detailed work on social care through our ‘Strategic Reform Partner’ contract with the Department for Education.

We also have a key role to play in challenging the ineffective, ensuring compliance, and supporting our members in holding services to account. I believe it is also about spreading the very best practice when we see it, so that everyone sees what is possible, and challenging the ineffective practice that’s simply not good enough. We need to be clear that we will not accept poor delivery.

The world did not change at 9am on the 1st September. This process is an evolution not a revolution. This is an opportunity to build effective working relationships and for collective learning and development.