SPECIAL REPORT: Doncaster's Children's Services receives first positive judgement in seven years - but what's changed?
Standards of care at Doncaster's scandal-hit children's services have '˜significantly improved,' according to a Government watchdog.
In Ofsted’s first visit since the Doncaster Children’s Services Trust was rated ‘inadequate’ a year ago, inspectors visiting last month found that effective progress had been made to improve the quality of services provided.
They added that no children were judged to be at risk following the visit, and have commented on how there has been a notable improvement in the quality of work undertaken by social workers
This latest Ofsted judgement acts as a beacon of hope for the trust, due to the difficult seven years for children’s services in Doncaster that preceded it.
In 2009, the Government began supervising children’s services following the deaths of seven children in the borough through abuse or neglect over five years.
Less than a year later a serious case review found the attacks in Edlington in which two young boys were tortured by two brothers, aged 11 and 12, had been ‘preventable’.
The trust was set up in 2014 after the local authority was stripped of its children’s services a year earlier when the Government deemed the service to have a ‘legacy of failure’. It then received an ‘inadequate’
rating by Ofsed in November 2015, prompting fears that not enough had changed.
Some 10 months on, and families, social workers and management all say the trust is beginning to transform children’s services in Doncaster. But what has really changed?
Intensive Family Support Worker Angie Rankin worked in children’s services in Doncaster, both for the trust and when the department was run by the local authority.
She says things have ‘changed for the better’ since the take-over, and that the trust’s independence from local authority ‘bureaucracy’ means that the problems that exist can be fixed far more quickly.
Angie said: “Because of the way things have changed we’re able to get better results, and there’s a feeling of optimism. I don’t think you could have said that before. Because the trust is independent it means that there isn’t that bureaucracy and if things aren’t working they can be changed much more easily. This has made things better for staff and families.
“There’s more support for staff now, and top management like Paul Moffatt are very approachable. There used to be a feeling of uncertainty on the shop floor. You never quite knew what was happening next, whereas in the trust we have a clear direction.
“We have quarterly meetings where we all get together and collaborate on things and talk about what needs to change and what’s going well.
“It wasn’t run like this before, and it’s showing results already.”
Doncaster mum-of-four Lindsey* is one of the people Angie has supported through her role at the trust.
Lindsey had intervention from children’s services, both before and after the department was taken out of council control, and says she thinks the way it is run now sets families up to succeed - not fail.
She said: “I was never getting praised for doing good, but as soon as I did something wrong they would jump on me. I always felt like I was getting judged, which made things harder. I always wanted to do well, and knew that things needed to be different, but the council didn’t seem to get that about me. It was like they were the teacher and I was the child.”
Since Angie was appointed as the family support worker they have been supported to move on from a situation of domestic abuse and drug use. They are now flourishing with Lindsey helping her four children, who are aged between seven and 16, to achieve at school. Lindsey says she the support has enabled her to have the confidence she needs to get back to work, and is now preparing for full-time employment.
“I put myself down a lot, but Angie has given me the confidence to think that I can do it - that I can be a good mum and to trust myself,” added Lindsey.
“If it wasn’t for Ange I think I would have hit rock bottom. Now I know that I might not always get things right, but that when that happens and I need help or support there’s someone there.”
Angie said: “It’s about relationship building, and getting them to trust you and that what you say will benefit them as a family. If you come in and say ‘do this, do that’ without understanding the person, and
without them trusting you all you do is create barriers which are then very difficult to break down. It’s about empowering people to make their own changes.”
The trust’s chief executive Paul Moffatt says a crucial element to the progress made by the trust has been to change how the department is perceived both by members of the public and by professionals in the field.
He says that only by doing this can the trust recruit the best possible staff and finally move away from that legacy of failure.
“When we advertised for management posts last year we were lucky if we got two applicants. This year when we’ve advertised for the same sort of roles, we’ve had 45 apply. That shows you just how far we’ve come, in terms of reputation. We’ve also been able reduce the number of agency staff to around 12 per cent, but I want to reduce that further.
“The reason we want fewer agency staff is because it’s important to send the same skilled workers who are committed to the families and their role.
“This continuity is vital. Families want to know that the same person will be supporting them throughout.”
*Not her real name