Veronica Bawden remembers the years of struggle well.
In 2005 she became a children’s social worker in Doncaster, driven by a desire to support young people in the town she was born and raised in.
And it was that commitment to the children she worked with that kept her at the service even when it became marred by ‘inadequate’ Ofsted ratings and management churn.
“I can remember in the period of one year having 10 managers,” she recalls. “I wouldn’t even get two supervisions with the same manager.”
All Veronica and her frontline colleagues could do was soldier on and keep trying to deliver for the children on their caseloads while hoping a fix would be found.
Then one day in 2014 came the news that something big – something radical – was going to happen in Doncaster. An unprecedented change. The formation of a new way of delivering children’s services being set up by the government and the council: Doncaster Children’s Services Trust.
From inadequate to good
People were worried says Veronica – after all, never before had something like this happened to a children’s service – but, she adds, everyone knew change was needed.
“Most of my colleagues’ view was this can’t get any worse – it’s surely got to get better.”
And get better it did. The collaborative response by the trust, council and partners to support families in need saw real progress. In January 2018 Ofsted declared the service was now ‘good’, ending years of ‘inadequate’ ratings.
When the trust first took over not much seemed to have changed, recalls Veronica. The team was now part of the trust but still facing the same problems.
Yet as the months passed the changes became more and more apparent. Managers who stayed, better oversight thanks to regular supervision, more formal auditing of cases and integration with family support services to enable more rounded support for the young people.
Regular training at the trust and the embedding of the use of Signs of Safety, Veronica feels “has helped given practitioners back their confidence in work they do with children and family”.
Led with passion
The directors were different too. Among them, the hot-desking head of service who would come in to work alongside the team and Paul Moffat, the chief executive willing to get on stage and sing ‘I’m a Believer’ at the talent show the trust holds each Christmas for looked-after children.
“Paul’s passion for the children seeps through to everybody,” says Veronica. “It was really refreshing to see that at the top of the organisation because us on the shop floor have that same passion.
“Paul doesn’t mind getting silly with the kids. He has formed some really nice relationships with our young people.”
‘We sat there in awe’
But for Veronica the real telltale sign of change was watching the looked-after children who would speak at the staff gatherings the trust holds twice a year.
“Obviously, I’m aware of how my children are doing but I don’t have an overview of every child in Doncaster but at these summits I got to see the confidence growing in the young people,” she says.
“You’d watch some of these young girls and boys when they first started with the trust and you could see their nervousness. But over time you could see their confidence growing and that they now believed they could achieve.
“We all sat there in awe of them. We’d talk about what we were like at their age and there is no way you’d have got us up on stage!”
Getting it right
The young people’s ambitions extend well beyond the staff summits, she adds: “Some of the young people are building up businesses and giving talks to helps support other young people with going to university. There’s a lot of forward thinking happening with the young people here and you think, ‘We’re finally getting it right for young people’.
“The nice thing now about coming to work is that we now have outside confirmation through Ofsted that we are doing a good job.
“But we’re not standing still just because we got a good. We’re now looking at what we need to do to get to the next step of outstanding. And everybody here wants to take that next step.”