I was deeply shocked and saddened yesterday to hear of the death of Dave Hill, the Director of Children’s Services for Surrey. I have only known Dave for two years, but he has had a large impact on my life and work.
Dave was passionate about children and getting it right. When he came into Surrey, there were huge challenges across the services for children across Surrey – social services, children’s mental health and services for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. The combination of these problems would have daunted a lesser person, but not Dave; he has worked tirelessly for the last two years to set a new vision and lead the county in a new direction. He has brought in a new team of very talented, dedicated people who know that things can be different, who have made things work in other places and know that they can do it here. At the same time as leading the big picture, he would pay attention to detail, paying personal attention to individual family cases to make things happen. I often wondered how he had the time to be operating at the strategic level whilst also down in the detail, but he knew that it was an important part of his leadership to show how things needed to change, one family at a time.
Dave was a System’s Leader – he knew that his job was not just to change Surrey County Council’s services, but also to bring the whole “system” - re-imagining how the various public agencies and the third sector to work together as whole to serve children, young people and families.
I personally owe a huge amount to Dave. He really saw the value in the third sector – in all of the wonderful children’s and youth charities across Surrey that I represent. He rapidly invited me to join various boards and opened up space to work towards much greater third sector involvement with council initiatives. He also saw the value in having a “critical friend” on many of the boards and initiatives that he was involved in and welcomed left field questions.
I think that the best personal tribute that I can pay to Dave is to show the legacy that he has left with me personally. I have gained hugely in confidence from working with Dave – learning to trust my own voice, to speak out, to believe that human kindness can trump bureaucracy, that we can aspire to nurture each and every child in the system, that love and kindness is what counts, not tick box exercises.
I had known much of this in my heart before Dave arrived in Surrey, but hadn’t managed to articulate it very well, or had often been a lone voice in the room. Thanks to Dave I am now bolder, more challenging, believing in myself, having more clarity about how I can help ensure that every child in Surrey gets the start in life that they deserve.
Thanks to Dave I am able to reach new levels of authenticity and honesty in my working life. Thanks to Dave, I too became a System’s leader – working as an equal with my colleagues to change the Surrey public and charity sector landscapes to deliver better for children. The third sector is now so much more valued than by the public sector than before and we are working very differently together – I hope that this difference will be felt by children, young people and families in new CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services) Contract that is currently under re-procurement and will start next April.
I observed with wonder Dave’s personal resilience. He was absolutely passionate about doing the best for children and faced a shedload of challenges that would have daunted most – not just the challenge of turning around services but also financially the council was in a really bad way so there was very little room for manoeuvre. In the midst of this as he worked day and night to change things, he told me one time how he had received a tweet from a parent, blaming him for ruining their child’s life. He took it graciously in his stride, carrying on with his purpose, I guess that he saw the pain behind the parent’s anger. I marvelled at how he could carry on with equanimity, it was a lesson that I had not yet learned from him how to do myself and had still hoped I might learn from him.
I know that I am not alone in my grief, there are many, many people feeling as I do. As well as bringing in new talented, dedicated people to work with him, Dave has also strived to reset relationships in the county – relationships between many organisations were extremely poor when Dave started and are so much better now. I so hope that together we can build on Dave’s legacy, to deliver on his vision to give every child a great start in life – believing in them, nurturing them, helping them to shine. Below I attach the principles that Dave and I worked up with some colleagues from police, health, other charities across the county and the Better Way network. The best tribute that we can give to Dave is to live and breath these for every child in Surrey.
I would like to extend my deepest sympathies to his family, I know that his strong home life was a key foundation of strength.
The last two years have been the very best of my working life – enjoyable, productive and learning so much. Thank you, Dave, from the bottom of my heart. I will miss you deeply.
TIME FOR KIDS SURREY – PRINCIPLES
Our five key principles will make the difference to all children and young people and provide them the very best opportunity to succeed in life.
Being crazy about the kid
We all need to be ‘crazy about the kid’. Every professional needs to focus on human connection with a child, regardless of their background or circumstances, with patience and passion to achieve the very best for all children and young people.
Every child/young person needs a consistent relationship with at least one adult they trust.
Many young people feel lost and without direction, they don’t believe that they have anyone to turn to. Building trust and confidence takes time and a persistent and consistent approach. Often we hear stories of ever changing so-called ‘trusted adults’ in a child/young person’s life. How can we expect any form of ‘trust’ to be built when that person changes frequently and relationships have to start all over again. We need to enable professionals and volunteers working with children and young people to have the time and resources to provide stability and earn the child/young person’s trust.
Every child needs to be able to tell their story and learn to hope.
Many children experience trauma or loss. Others have a deeply unpleasant daily lived experience. Those children who have a clear story about what has happened to them are more likely to have develop healthy relationships going forward and hence to flourish. Children and young people need to know why they are where they are and to understand that they have choices and the potential to experience a happier life; connection with their peers can often help with this immeasurably. We all need to encourage young people to tell their story, and we must listen, believe and help the young person to make the changes that they need to make and to develop a sense of hope about their future.
Every child needs a sense of belonging and encouragement to shine.
Children and young people need to have a group of friends, a club, association or school, which they look forward to going to. Where they can be themselves. Where they feel people have an interest in their welfare and they can ‘shine’. We all need to find ways to build on the strengths of each child, not just those who fit into the traditional mainstream educational systems and exams that are prevalent in our society and help them to shine.
We all need to believe in the child or young person and what they can achieve.
Believing in yourself because others have believed in you is the recipe for success. Professionals need to have faith in young people, to help them explore their individuality and learn the tools and belief that they can do what they set their minds to, with the power to change their world.
Jon Savell (Surrey Police), Trudy Mills (Children and Family Health Surrey), Dave Hill (Surrey County Council), Chris Hickford (The Eikon Charity), Caroline Slocock (Better Way Network), Steve Wyler (Better Way Network), Jon Hetherington (More House School, Frensham), David Gumbrell (The Resilience Project), Cate Newnes-Smith (Surrey Youth Focus), Joe Crome (Community Foundation for Surrey)