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Doncaster Children’s Services Trust

Over the past 12 months I have had the privilege of leading Doncaster Children’s Services Trust through its formative year. The Trust is the first of its kind in the UK, operating independently from the local authority. Our remit is to pioneer new, dynamic and innovative ways to provide outstanding care to local children and families.

It has been an exciting, but challenging year. From the moment we opened our doors we were providing vital services at the same time as building a new organisation. We were under close scrutiny from the government, which had been involved in establishing the Trust, and we have also been tasked with moving Doncaster children’s services to ‘Outstanding’ by October 2019.

With all of these pressures, I was pleased to have such an excellent team. We have also benefitted from the combination of expertise and local knowledge contributed by our board of directors.

On a national level, we knew we needed to draw on the wisdom of our fellow professionals. That help has been readily available and my heartfelt thanks go to all of those ADCS colleagues who have given their time and advice. You all know who you are, but I particularly want to mention those from East Riding of Yorkshire, Stockport, Hackney and North Yorkshire. Locally, we have been welcomed and supported by our partners.

One of the main advantages of delivering children’s services from outside the local authority is our freedom and flexibility. We are a small organisation, totally focussed on children and families; we don’t have responsibility for education. We have a flatter management structure and more control over our own budget than most children’s services teams. This helps our senior staff to stay close to the frontline, pinpointing areas where services can be improved. We can make the necessary changes or re-targeting resources before a problem becomes more complex.

Our staff really appreciate this; they say that they get decisions more quickly, there is a stronger focus on quality of practice and more of a whole-service identity. I’ve managed to get to see all of them this year through events, site visits and observations of their practice, and this has given me a real insight into what it is like to work for the Trust.

This agile approach also means we can trial new ways of working and keep a careful check on the results, using robust data to constantly improve our practice. In addition, we are delighted to be working on four really significant projects which are each backed by the DfE’s Innovation Fund.

Growing Futures is a major programme testing a new way of tackling domestic abuse, with the new role of Domestic Abuse Navigator at its core.

Our Pause project is part of a national pilot programme to support women who have had two or more children removed from their care. Astonishingly, the initial 44 women we identified have had a total of 138 children removed. Our Pause team work directly with them to strengthen their self-esteem and wellbeing and help them to make informed choices about their next steps.

A breakthrough in overcoming these thorny issues has the potential to save a lot of money, and of course reduce misery and damage in children’s lives.

We are also working on the pioneering Mockingbird fostering initiative, setting up mutually supportive family hubs. Our fourth project is in partnership with neighbouring authorities and involves a new wraparound outreach service and specialist foster provision to support the recovery of young people affected by child sexual exploitation.

We are starting to see results; most importantly, we are seeing better outcomes for children. This is supported by better quality practice, improved recruitment and retention, more streamlined support systems and a new strength in local partnerships.

Our Ofsted gradings are improving across regulated services – last month we achieved our first ‘Outstanding’ for one of our children’s homes. We know we still have a long way to go, and we still have the big test of our SIF inspection to tackle. But we are travelling hopefully now, and building our confidence.

We will shortly be showcasing our work at our first anniversary event. I am particularly pleased that Edward Timpson MP and Isabelle Trowler have agreed to join this celebration of an amazing first year. If you would like to hear more about what we have learned please get in touch. We aim to be an integral part of the network of children’s services professionals which has supported us so generously.

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