How Doncaster's children's services were turned around

Doncaster Children's Service  staff
Doncaster Children's Service staff

Major falls in sickness levels and less dependence of agency staff are a sign of improvement in Doncaster's children's services, reckon bosses.

Absences through illness have fallen from 15 per cent to 3.7 per cent since the service was taken over by an arms length trust in 2014, and the proportion of staff employed through agencies, which then stood at 22 per cent, is now down to 6.8 per cent.

But speaking after a Government report praised the progress being made in Doncaster's children's services since it was taken out of direct council control, the chief executive Paul Moffatt said there would still lessons to be learned.

Staff sickness and a dependency on agency staff had been highlighted in the past as one of the issues at the department.

But there were also concerns over the number of deaths in children who had crossed the council's radar, sparking a series of serious case reviews. Seven children died from abuse or neglect between 2004 and 2008.

There has not been a serious case review called since the trust was set up, but Mr Moffatt says the organisation cannot afford to be complacent about that.

He said: "There has not been a serious case review instigated since the trust went live, but it is important that we learn lessons from cases. We can't just rest on our laurels.

"Incidents are a bad thing but to be a learning organisation you always test yourself against what's happened, and we encourage staff to read case reviews from elsewhere.

"We think systems are now better, decision making is better and the quality of work has improved, but you can never predict when things can go wrong..

"We are pleased that we've not had any serious case reviews, but we are constantly learning lessons from our own experience and reading reviews from elsewhere."

The trust has altered how it changes its social care and family support and targeted training and supervision for improvements, and tried to improve support from management in what can often be challenging work for the staff.

He says the trust has tried to make sure staff feel supported to provide good services.

"People now take pride about working for the trust," he said. "They are being energised, innovative, and allowed to be creative and feel supported. That attracts staff."

Mr Moffatt believes that is one of the reasons for the falling sickness levels and the reduce reliance on agency staff. He said 25 of the previous agency staff had converted to become permanent workers at the trust.

The trust tries to recognise good work, and Mr Moffatt said they try to celebrate outstanding practice or significant improvement in the position of a child or young person's lives.

Current issues that the trust is seeing its staff have to deal with include neglect and domestic violence, as well as physical and emotional abuse cases.

Damian Allen, Director of People at Doncaster Council, said: "The creation of the Doncaster Children's Services Trust was a most complex process in which the Council and the Trust worked together as one.

"At the time the Trust was established Doncaster Council was on its own, well documented, improvement journey and it is the strong leadership of both the Council and the Trust which has ultimately improved social care for our children and young people.

“To enable this to happen it required considerable start-up investment from both the DfE and the Council. This additional support has continued over the past three years, to meet increased demand and invest in the growth and development of the Trust, so ultimately it can be sustainable.”

Robert Goodwill, the Government's minister for children and families, said: “We look at a range of options to support rapid improvement in children’s services, and it’s heartening to see the evidence that great progress is being made in Doncaster.

“I’d like to congratulate Paul and the team at Doncaster Children’s Service Trust for their hard work and dedication. I’d also like to thank Doncaster Council and other partners for their contribution to the Trust’s success.”

SIDEBAR:

The Department for Education's Implementation evaluation of Doncaster Children’s Services published in July states that the new trust has gone a long way in addressing the past problems.

Trust report stated: "It is important here to recognise that in 2014 the Trust took control of a failing service in a failing local authority; a service that had deep-rooted issues impacting practice and culture, and one which had undergone cycles of improvement and failure.

"Trust,credibility, confidence and quality were all in short supply. This evaluation has gathered evidence which demonstrates that the implementation of the Trust has gone a long way

in addressing many of the issues that called into question that effectiveness of children’s social care in Doncaster, and of the safety of children and families.

"The pace and scale of change to children’s services seen under the Trust’s leadership was not seen by Trust staff and partners as having been achievable under the Council as

it was at the point of children’s social care services transferring to the Trust."

"The Trust is now seen by senior staff and partners as consolidating improvement and being on track for ‘good or better’ status by October 2017.

It added a combination of features viewed by staff and partners as essential for supporting the positive changes to children’s social care services seen in Doncaster under the Trust included:

* A stable, committed, transparent and accountable leadership

* The single focus on children, enabling senior staff to focus attention on children’s social care services without the distractions faced by their counterparts in local

authorities

* The fresh start of a new organisation, breaking with the past context and experiences of children’s social care services in the Council

* The appetite and freedom to work differently

* The investment of time and resources