"A country that works for children": Alison Michalska addresses the EIF national conference
Alison Michalska’s vision of ‘a country that works for children’ is compelling. In her keynote address to the EIF National Conference today, the new president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services spoke persuasively about the need for children’s services to be properly resourced and for public sector agencies to be supported to act as ‘partnership parents’ to the 70,000 children currently in care.
In Alison’s vision, ‘a country that works for children’ would at the same time prioritise early intervention, giving our children and families the best chance to stay together and live happily and safely in their communities.
For Alison, prioritising early intervention means putting evidence into action – the theme of our conference and the subject of intense discussion and debate throughout the day. Using the evidence of what works when planning services for children and families is critical, she says, and sharing the learning from local improvement and innovation across the sector similarly so. Reflecting on her role at Nottingham city council, Alison described the ‘conundrum of what works’, the need to grapple with the fact that no intervention can be bought and slotted into a new setting without an understanding of the contextual implications for implementation. She talked about the challenge of evidencing the impact of early intervention, and the inadequacy of output measures for judging the effectiveness of an intervention or service, whilst recognising that this had to be done if the case for shifting more resource to preventative services is to be made. As president of the ADCS, Alison is a powerful advocate for early intervention and of the importance of evidence-led decision making.
And Alison left us with some salient reminders of the need to remain open to testing and adaptation. In her words, ‘we become experts at whatever we practice’ and ‘are not afraid of making mistakes – indeed mistakes are magnificent if they lead to learning’.