Guest Blog: Cllr Victoria Cusworth – insight from her role as Cabinet Member for Children and a former Scrutiny Chair

Reflecting on 20 years of the Children Act 2004: Cllr Victoria Cusworth Cabinet Member for Children and Young People in Rotherham and former Scrutiny Chair. 

The Children Act 2004 is a pivotal piece of legislation that shaped our work programme when I was Chair of Children’s Scrutiny and continues to do so as Cabinet Member for Children and Young People.

The focus on promoting the well-being of children and ensuring that their best interests are at the forefront of decision-making processes is close to my heart.  As to is the need for effective partnership working and collaboration, as the Council cannot do everything on its own it needs strong connections to our partners.

As Chair of Children’s Scrutiny between 2018 and 2021 the committee undertook a number of important pieces of work, such as scrutinising the sufficiency of placements and placement stability for children in our care, liaising with Corporate Parenting Panel, of which I was vice chair, to avoid duplication of work. We held the executive to account around SEND provision regarding quality and sufficiency, educational attainment and school expansion and establishment of a free school to meet the needs of children with social, emotional and mental health needs. Scrutiny’s main power is in the influence that is has, and building effective relationships with our key partners was crucial for the scrutiny committee to make a difference.

Becoming Cabinet Member in May 2021 brought with it the opportunity to shape services and drive improvement for children in Rotherham, along with my Cabinet colleagues and implementing our political manifesto, continuing to ensure we met our statutory duties in line with the Children Act 2004.

My role itself, and that of my DCS are set out in the Children Act and the duties the DCS and Cabinet Member have placed on them in Section 18 (2). I have been guided by these when it came to setting my priorities, and refreshing them regularly, namely: 

  • Our Council Plan priority of every child achieving their full potential – recently investing and committing to provide all newborn babies with a baby hamper (see photo)
  • SEND provision and sufficiency ensuring an increase in places to ensure children with SEND receive high quality education within the Borough and within their communities, 
  • Universal youth provision (the most upstream early help possible), we have invested in this over the past 3 years, commissioning VCS provision giving the breadth of activities we are unable to provide as a local authority.
  • Meeting regularly with our Parent Carer Forum and attending coffee mornings with parent carers. 
  • Establishing a Children and Young People’s Partnership Board to listen to and empower our children and young people and capturing the voice of our youth cabinet, children and young people with disabilities, young carers and children in care. 
  • Setting up a working group to look at foster carer retention and recruitment and 
  • Changing our Corporate Parenting Panel to a Corporate Parenting Partnership Board with a focus on problem solving panel paying greater attention to the voice of our Children in Care Council and taking them out of the public domain.

The Children Act 2004 helps guide policies and decision-making and I keep it at the forefront of my mind in all conversations I have with officers and partners. It’s a great framework to check against and to hold officers to account to ensure we are meeting our statutory duties and going above and beyond where possible. Having worked as a Chair of Scrutiny and Cabinet Member for Children, I cannot emphasise enough how important it is that these roles do not work in isolation of each other.  Scrutiny has a key role in holding decision makers to account, and in being part of the improvement journey for Children's Services. 

Cllr Victoria Cusworth
Cabinet Member for Children | Rotherham MBC
Peer Member | Local Government Association

 

Posted in Shaping Governance.