David Lund, Blackpool Council’s retiring director of children, adult and family services, knows every child matters.
He also knows some slip through safety nets. “The tragic deaths of a number of individual children over the years has had a huge impact on their families – and my own colleagues,” he admits.
Many more have been saved by policies shaped by Blackpool getting to grips with the darker side of seaside success – albeit with its hand forced by high profile missing children cases.
David helped form Operation Awaken – initially as a year-long pilot partnership of frontline agencies to safeguard vulnerable youngsters from sexual predators.
He adds: “It worked so well you’d be hard put to tell who are the police and who are the social workers on the team. All understand the risks heightened within the town.
“We educate youngsters in terms of what they can do to keep themselves safe in a town with 11 million other people coming in through the year.
“The more proactive you are the more situations you find. It was uncomfortable at first but we took it forward and other towns found similar issues and learned from our model. And we’ve stuck with it since.”
Delwyth Curtis and Sue Harrison, former services directors for the council, now head adult and children’s social services respectively – both statutory provisions previously under Lund’s wing.
They say David’s legacy is a far safer Blackpool today than it was before he started working here 14 years ago, the last nine as director.
He helped set up the authority as a unitary which takes care of its own administration rather than being under the county’s wing.
“It gave us a real opportunity to focus on challenges here rather than rely on a big geographical administration. We developed quality collaborative services bespoke to our needs and rising levels of social deprivation,” he says.
“It’s not hype. There are demonstrable improvements in keeping children safe, raising attainment through schools, reducing exclusions, improving attendance, reducing levels of teenage conception and breaking down barriers between professionals working for common goals.”
He helped establish one of the first children’s trusts in the country. “It’s all about improving outcomes for children; council, health, police, fire, voluntary agencies, schools, governors, all working together,” Mr Lund added.
Blackpool was one of the first to establish children’s centres. “We ensured they were integrated, rather than stand alone – unlike some authorities. We have been lucky to have the 100 per cent support of schools. They’re still in the best position to support us keeping children safe as most children attend school most of the time.
“They have been actively involved in initiatives against domestic violence and safeguarding vulnerable children.
“It was a school which picked up on the recent case of a boy who had been kept locked within an outhouse at home for more than a year.
“While it’s not nice to read about it we can’t know what’s happening in every house at every point of the day but that case was picked up by the school – concerns at the boy’s welfare, lack of cleanliness and hungriness led to the referral.
“We accept some parents struggle. It’s not unrelated to poverty and disadvantage but Britain is one of the safest countries in the world for children and young people.
“Isolated cases hit the headlines but it’s not the norm. The system protects children far better than ever before.
“Earlier intervention is vital. Blackpool has one of the highest levels of looked-after children of any North West authority. We need to reduce those numbers – and encourage more foster parents to offer support. “
Sue, a former English teacher and now director of children’s services, agrees.
“Children are our future and every child deserves a chance to achieve potential. There is so much more to be done. Crucial areas are keeping children safe, reducing numbers who go into care, and working with schools to make sure no child falls through the gaps,” she says.
“It shouldn’t matter whether a school’s an academy, community or church school, it should work with the council. The national message is schools should be independent of local authorities but there’s synergy here between schools and council services and they need us just as we need them.
“There’s a perception nationally all children arrive at school clean, dressed, fed, ready to learn – and with two parents back home.
“But it’s not an ideal world like that. We need to recognise barriers families face and support them earlier without being judgemental.
“Our children’s centres already deliver consistently outstanding reports and comments from parents which could make you weep – ‘this centre saved my life’ and so on.
“Children can be supported at any time and their outcome improved. We have parents who have very damaging experiences as children who have become fulfilled successful parents and members of the community. It’s never too late.”
Fellow director Delwyth is working on a smoother transition from children to adult services – particularly with regard to those with learning disabilities and vulnerable older people.
“It’s traditionally seen as a Cinderella service but some significant redesigns should really help to make a difference.
“We are working on new models for social care clients, to ensure services are more responsive. People come out of hospital faster these days, and we need to respond in kind.
“We haven’t changed our criteria as some councils have but merely ensured those eligible actually meet it. We haven’t closed day care provision but changed models to make sure services go to those who really need them. We now have two learning disability hubs, one at Bispham, the other in Blackpool, and the capital means to complete their overhaul.
“We are reinventing other centres to provide more intermediate and recuperation beds and there’s a complete refurbishment of Hoyle House – which was kept open by the new administration – to offer respite and other care.
“There’s also a programme of work in residential mental health crisis and respite care and dementia care.
“My background is health so I know we have lost a lot of key contacts because of health service changes but there’s a lot of expertise and goodwill still out there for our new Health and Wellbeing Board.
“As with everything here – it’s all about partnership.
“That’s David’s legacy.”