The role of portfolio holder for children’s services gives you the opportunity to make an enormous difference to the lives of your youngest residents – but it also comes with significant responsibility.
The role of portfolio holder is the only role for elected members that is defined in legislation, and it requires careful working with partners and across the council to keep children safe, happy, and well while supporting them to achieve their full potential.
You also have an important role in ensuring that all councillors and council employees understand their unique responsibility as ‘corporate parents’ to children in the care of the council, and care leavers, and setting the tone for the local authority to perform this role well.
Please note that the names of some meetings and the titles of some documents mentioned below may vary from council to council.
Meet with the outgoing portfolio holder
If circumstances allow, it would be really helpful to meet with the outgoing portfolio holder. They may have a handover file and their assistant may be able to transfer dates from their diary into yours.
Your officers will also be able to provide you with important documents related to your role.
Read our introductory guide for new portfolio holders
Speak to your director of children’s services (DCS)
- Agree how often you will meet and put the dates in your diary
- Agree how you will receive updates between meetings where required, including for urgent situations.
- Clarify your statutory responsibilities (especially important if the statutory role is shared by more than one councillor)
- Establish which meetings you should attend and get the dates in your diary
- Find out the strengths of your children’s services, and the challenges. What actions are being taken to address challenges and what is your role in supporting this improvement journey?
- Understand the local landscape for children and young people. How effective are relevant partnerships? What is the relationship like with local schools? What are the key challenges facing children, young people and their families?
- Discuss the overall vision for children’s services and your priorities and ideas coming into the role.
If the DCS also holds the role of director of adult social services then you will need to see the test of assurance.
As lead member you will work with your DCS, chief executive and leader or mayor as part of the strategic ‘quartet’ providing leadership across the council and partners to improve outcomes for children and young people. If your DCS is new in post or the DCS post is in the process of being filled, the other members of the strategic quartet will be particularly useful to speak to early on.
Make contact with the council leader, chair of scrutiny, chair of corporate parenting – and portfolio holders for community safety, and adult services
Discuss how you will work together especially around the corporate parenting agenda and ensuring positive transitions between children and adults services.
Make contact with the LGA children’s improvement adviser for your region
They will be able to fill you in on the regional and national opportunities for networking and peer support, including our peer mentoring programme.
North East – Caroline O’Neill | firstname.lastname@example.org
North West – Linda Clegg | email@example.com
Yorkshire & Humble – Rachel Dickinson | firstname.lastname@example.org
East Midlands and East of England – Andrew Bunyan | email@example.com
West Midlands and South West – Claire Burgess | firstname.lastname@example.org
South East – Alison Michalska | email@example.com
London – Jane Humphreys | firstname.lastname@example.org
Familiarise yourself with key local documents
The following documents will hold important information:
- latest inspection reports
- any recent reports following safeguarding local learning reviews
- associated action and improvement plans
- self-assessment of children’s services
- children and young people's joint strategic needs assessment (JSNA)
- special educational needs and disability (SEND) strategy
- most recent annual reports which may include the safeguarding children partnership report, independent reviewing officer report, local authority designated adviser (LADO) report, corporate parenting board report, and reports relating to complaints, fostering service, and the regional adoption agency
- youth offending service strategic plan
- school improvement and school support strategies
- staffing structure
- quality assurance framework and latest performance reports
- budget position
- scrutiny work programme and recommendations
- glossary of terms you may wish to refer to our children’s services glossary if one is not available locally).
Add key meetings to your diary
It is useful to attend the meetings of the following groups:
- regional lead member network
- children’s scrutiny committee
- schools forum
- health and wellbeing board
- youth parliament
- children in care council
- corporate parenting board
- safeguarding children partnership.
Register on our e-learning platform and complete relevant modules
- corporate parenting (from June 2022)
- equality, diversity and inclusion
- scrutiny for councillors
- influencing skills
- stress management and personal resilience.
Book onto our children’s services Leadership Essentials course
Find out about our Leadership Essentials programme
For more information email email@example.com
Develop an understanding of the child and family journey within your
- Arrange to sit down with a frontline social worker or relevant department lead to go through the child safeguarding process.
- Ask about opportunities to shadow staff teams and visit services.
- Get to know your data – the ‘ Your First Ten Days ’ document highlights some statistics that are useful to know from the beginning and to keep a regular eye on.
It is important to remember that as the lead member you have political responsibility for services – operational responsibility sits with the DCS.
Explore opportunities to hear from or meet with colleagues
Who you meet first will depend on your authority’s priorities. You may want to meet with the following colleagues and teams (although this list is not exhaustive):
- children, young people and families
- foster carers
- providers of children’s services
- senior and frontline managers
- health partners including providers
- education settings leaders including schools, colleges and specialist provision
- community and voluntary groups
- youth services
- children’s centres
- family hubs and early help hubs
- virtual school head teacher
- local safeguarding children board chair / independent scrutineer.
Establish how and when you will receive performance information
- Meet with the data and performance leads for children’s services to build an understanding and agreement on what reports you will need and how often.
- Agree who will be able to provide support in understanding the data as required.
As a guide, you will need to develop an understanding of data trends and context around referrals to children’s services, assessments, child protection plans, numbers and ages of children coming into care and stability of placements, and outcomes for children in care and care leavers.
Understand how you can support equality, diversity and inclusion through your role
Inspiring local communities and creating a better future requires ambitious and representative leadership, which is at the heart of a healthy democracy. Our councillor development programme offers support to local politicians to promote fairness, tackle inequality and enable greater diversity and inclusion.
Other relevant resources include our:
- equalities, diversity and inclusion in leadership list of resources
- councillor’s workbook on equality, diversity and inclusion
- Leadership Essentials sessions on equality, diversity and inclusion (email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information)
- equality, diversity and inclusion e-learning module for councillors
- equality, diversity and inclusion good practice.