Ofsted praises 'continuing progress' at Doncaster's independent trust

By Joe Lepper

| 22 March 2017

The quality of children's services in Doncaster is continuing to improve, with the independent trust in charge of provision earning praise for involving looked-after children in decision making.

Doncaster Children’s Services Trust took on responsibility for running children's social care provision in October 2014 on the orders of then Education Secretary Michael Gove. Picture: Doncaster Children's Services Trust

Following the third monitoring visit since provision was rated "inadequate" in November 2015, Ofsted inspectors said they were particularly impressed by the high profile the trust gave to the children in care council, which inspectors described as "very impressive and well supported".

Inspectors said children involved with the initiative take part in staff interviews and training as well as giving advice on projects such as children's home refurbishments.

They are also helping the council to improve social work visits to children and are involved in national-level policy development, including taking part in a Social Care Institute for Excellence consultation on mental health provision for looked-after children.

"Children and young people are at the heart of strategic planning and operational work," a letter outlining the findings of the monitoring visit said.

"Overall they are clear that their views are taken seriously and that they are able to influence developments."

Care leavers, including those working for the trust as apprentices, were also involved in local policy decisions, Ofsted found.

Doncaster Children's Trust chief executive Paul Moffat said: "We are delighted that Ofsted reflected on the role of young people. It wasn't just the children in care council they met, it was also our young advisers who are a mixture of children still in care, in receipt of leaving care services and one or two no longer receiving services.

"They talk to us about their experiences of leaving care, for example, and what to avoid. We are not doing this tokenistically."

He added: "One of the things people comment on is when they come into our building there are young people around. That changes the atmosphere and ambience of the building as it reminds us constantly that we are here to support children and young people."

Improvements within social work were also noted, with inspectors welcoming efforts to develop a stable, well-supported, permanent workforce through a focus on staff retention and ensuring they have manageable caseloads.

"This means that social workers know the children and young people well," the letter said.

"They are committed advocates and clearly want the best for them."

Doncaster's independent reviewing service was also found to be well run, both effectively supporting children, and challenging decisions, the inspectorate said.

Work by the trust to explore permanent arrangements for children was also praised by Ofsted for being clear, timely and well monitored by management.

The virtual school has also seen improvements and works well with social workers to improve children in care's education plans. Work it is currently involved with includes a pilot to reduce fixed-term exclusions.

The timeliness of initial health assessments has improved dramatically, with 76 per cent now completed in good time, compared with just 35 per cent in the quarter prior to the children's services department being rated as "inadequate".

The trust took on responsibility for running children's social care provision from Doncaster Council in October 2014 on the orders of then Education Secretary Michael Gove.

Ofsted's previous monitoring visit last October found that efforts to improve the quality of social work were having an impact, while the first monitoring visit, in August last year, found the trust had "responded meaningfully" to recommendations made by inspectors the previous year.

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