Leading for Longer: New report issues call to action on high turnover of leadership roles in children’s services

A call for action has been issued by The Staff College after a number of concerns have been raised about the high turnover of leadership roles within children’s services. 

With tenures of DCSs averaging around three years, it is feared this is having a direct impact on the ability to improve children’s services. At present, the DCS role remains one of the hardest chief officer roles to fill and retain, yet is a critical leadership role responsible for supporting and protecting vulnerable children across the United Kingdom. 

Some of the key reasons cited for the high level of position churn include increased workloads, along with a lack of a coherent policy focus on children. In addition, an ‘overload’ of external inspections by various bodies resulted in a ‘blame culture’. 

The report highlights that the current average tenure for a Director of Children’s Services (DCS) makes it essential for organisations to have a strong plan in place for leadership transitions. This issue is compounded by the emergence of the ‘accidental DCS’ – individuals who did not plan to become a DCS – and a lack of ethnic diversity among those in leadership positions. 

Respondents to this research also cited increased workload due to central government silo-working, with communications from a range of government departments resulting in a lack of coherent policy focus on children. The report goes on to state that this issue is exacerbated by those working in a local authority where there is a lack of support for Children’s Services. 

The findings were issued in a report entitled ‘Leading For Longer’, which was commissioned as part of the upon Programme. 

Outlines for improvements have been made which is hoped will create a more diverse and qualified pool of leaders to draw upon when it comes to succession planning and increase post retention rates for DSCs. These include better support from local corporate and political colleagues, strengthened training, better policy implementation from central government, and a greater certainty of budgets. 


Chief Executive of The Staff College, Jane Parfrement, comments on the report:

“There is no question that the role of Director of Children’s Services is a challenging one, those who take on the role are responsible for the wellbeing of our children across the country. However, what the report we release today shows is that it can also be incredibly rewarding and the motivation to do the right thing for children and make a difference is what drives those within the roles.

The ability to recruit and retain a high quality DCS who brings stability and effective leadership is one of the single biggest determinants in whether a Local Authority’s children’s service thrives. There are numerous external pressures on the DCS role these are clearly articulated in this report along with recommendations. However, what it also suggests is that the most significant single factor that impacts on firstly whether someone would choose a particular local authority and then whether they can stay and succeed is not the external issues but internal ones. This is good news because it is something that those within the local authority can control. The culture and the behaviour within many local authorities is a positive one where those leading children’s services feel valued, supported and constructively challenged however what this report also highlights is that for a number, possibly many, this is not the case

The message from this report to Chief Executives and elected political leaders is clear – if you want to recruit, retain and enable a DCS to succeed they need your support and they need to feel they are working within a council where the culture is a healthy enabling and open one and where diversity of leadership is welcomed and celebrated.  This is within your gift.”

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