Steve Darling: It feels like children’s services is moving in right direction

Our goal is to make Torbay a family-friendly place

Our goal is to make Torbay a family-friendly place - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

It’s fair to say that 2020 has been challenging for all of us. But imagine being a child who is facing a crisis in their home, a young carer with the responsibility of looking after a parent, or a family needing intensive support from a range of professionals.

This is the case for many of our Torbay families, who like all of us have had to cope, not only with the restrictions Covid-19 has placed on our daily lives, but additional and sometimes complex issues.

Like many council teams, our children’s services staff have had to quickly adapt to a new way of working to ensure they could continue to provide essential support and services to our most vulnerable children and families.

Through a mix of virtual and face-to-face work, they’ve still been able to make significant developments to improve outcomes across a range of work streams.

One of the most significant successes has had to be the stability in the workforce which in just six months has seen the reliance on agency staff across the service reduce from 41 per cent to 27 per cent.

Not only has this delivered significant cost savings but it has meant that children and families get to build a meaningful relationship with their social worker which is crucial in terms of developing trust and ensuring the right result or level of support is reached for the family in a timely way.

Our goal is to make Torbay a family-friendly place.

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The partnership between children’s services and Torbay Youth Trust is a great example of how statutory and voluntary community services are working together to help us deliver our long-term strategies of ensuring young people and families are healthy, make positive choices and influence their own futures.

Back in September, I helped to welcomed 14 newly qualified social workers to children’s services and launched our in-house Learning Academy.

These new members of the children’s services team are already embracing the ethos of the academy and are supporting each other as they explore the challenges that social work can bring, and are gaining invaluable knowledge and capability by working with experienced social workers on ‘real life’ cases.

Not only are newly qualified social workers being given development opportunities, advanced social worker practitioners and team managers have also started new learning programmes which have been designed to focus on being a good leader, quality assurance and change management.

Demonstrating our commitment to having a highly-skilled and trained workforce so our families can receive the high-quality service they expect and deserve.

As we continue to improve the quality of our work for our children and families, we’ve seen an increase in the number of Torbay households coming forward to offer a short-term home for some of our most vulnerable children.

Since the start of the financial year in April 2020, 15 new families have been approved to become one of our fostering families.

Being placed with a local fostering family is hugely beneficial to the child, it means they get to stay within their local community, remain in their school with their friends and if it is safe to do so maintain contact with their own family – all which are crucial for a young person’s emotional wellbeing.

It’s been a tough and somewhat bumpy road for children’s services over recent years. But dare I say, there is a glimmer light at the end of the tunnel as we prepare for our next Ofsted inspection where we are striving to receive a good rating next spring, as this is what our families deserve.

There is still plenty to be done, we still need to understand the true and long-term impact that the pandemic has had on our families, but it certainly feels like the service is moving in the right direction to be able to face those challenges head on.