How Doncaster children's services transformed from unsatisfactory to good

To see how Doncaster children's services have changed recently, you can ask the people who provide the boots on the ground.

Tuesday, 30th January 2018, 10:43 am
Updated Tuesday, 30th January 2018, 10:50 am
Doncaster Children's Services Trust. Left to right Fanso Maria, young advisor; Paul Moffat, chief executive; Rebecca Koole, young advisor; and Mica Ferrol, young advisor. Picture: Doncaster Children's Services Trust

To see how Doncaster children's services have changed recently, you can ask the people who provide the boots on the ground.

Those who work at the trust say they have seen major changes in how things are done in the last three years.

Doncaster Children's Trust. (L to R) Angela Clark, Lee Durrant, Janice Jinks, Leonie Hegedus, Matthew Sutton

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Janice Jinks, a foster carer for the last 30 years, is among them. She has taken in 58 children who needed a home.

She said: "We've seen massive improvements in sustainability and in terms of people having a voice."

One of the changes that she has seen improve the lives of foster carers was a scheme called Mockingbird. It means that foster families are offered the chance of a respite break, with other foster carers stepping in to give them a break from dealing challenging behaviour.

"It's in its second year and its been really successful," she said.

Doncaster Children's Trust. (L to R) Angela Clark, Lee Durrant, Janice Jinks, Leonie Hegedus, Matthew Sutton

"The other thing that has stood out is that the chief executive at the trust, Paul Moffat, comes to the youth clubs and get to the grass roots. He'll have a game of pool with the children and get to know them. That is something that I'd not seen in 30 years."

It is one of a number of changes which have come in through bosses listening to their staff, and workers are keen to make the improvements clear.

Another who has been impressed is Neville Brown, of the care leavers team. He was pleased to find the bosses keen to listen to new ideas.

He remembers discussing the issue of children leaving the care service at the age of 18 in his car with a colleague as they drove along the M62 together. They discussed the problem of children leaving care aged 18, with no support from that point. They thought there should be a scheme to help them after that, with staff from agencies that could help based in the same building.

He said: "From a conversation on the motorway, we ran it past the managers, and they said go with it. Now for 18 to 25 year olds we hold meetings and make sure they're getting appropriate support and help. Before that, they just went off the cliff edge at 18."

Leonie Hegedus, a social worker in child care, also found support from the bosses. It has allowed her start creating 'life story' books for the youngsters in her care. These are books which tell the back story to each child. They are now used to pass on to carers to help them understand the child, with information about their past, and children do not have to tell their story each time they deal with someone new.

"That happened because they now listen to what we are saying," she said.

The changes have in turn helped bring about a more stable workforce - and that has helped too.

Lee Durrant and Matthew Sutton have both noticed that children now have fewer changes in their social worker. Matthew said it helped the children. Lee said it means they do not have to start building up relationships again.

It is not just the staff who have a say now. Social worker Sierra Wilton thinks the biggest and most importance change is that children are now listened too. She says from the second the child sits in a car with a social worker, they have a say. Her first question is what the child wants on the radio. She has been told the feedback she has had is that children now know that their social worker will be a strong advocate for them.

The children who have used the services agree.

Fanso Maria, Rebecca Koole and Mica Ferrol, all aged 19, are now on a panel set up to represent youngsters on the trust's board.

Fanso, who has been in council care for three years, says he saw his social worker more after the trust was set up. He says if something is asked for now, it happens straight away.

Mica, who was been in care for nine years found the same.

Rebecca, in care for five years, spent time living in one of Doncaster Council's children's homes.

She feels one of the most important changes she saw was a change in how toiletries were dealt with.

She said: "There used to be a cupboard where the toiletries were kept. You had no choice what you got, and as a woman, that is something that is important to you. It used to be embarrassing as a teenager to have to go and ask for toiletries and sanitary products, especially if it was a male member of staff. Now you can choose your own, and it makes you want to look after your own personal hygiene."

She also remembers how she arrived in the care system, and faced frequent changes of her social worker. After the trust was set up, she had the same social worker for three years.

"I had five social workers in the first year," she said. "Going into care was the most difficult, traumatic experience, and that made it worse. But having the same social worker has been great, and I know that I could still call them even now. It means you can build up a consistent relationship."

The three, who are described as Young Advisors, have helped make changes. One of those which they are most pleased with is a change in wording. They asked for time spent with their relatives to be called 'family time'. It has previously been called 'contact time', which Fanso, Mica and Rebecca see as the language of courts of social workers.

They found it difficult when the expression was used around their friends, and changing it meant a lot to them.