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This issue, our ‘Social Work Circle’ column hears from the viewpoint of a residential children’s home manager. CJ Thompson explains the pressures that residential home staff face and discusses how social workers can work with them to support children and young people.

“Social Care is an ever demanding and difficult sector; with unprecedented times of austerity and higher levels of need, it provides an even greater challenge for workers to give the appropriate care for children and young people who find themselves Looked After.

One issue that adds further unnecessary complexity to this division is that there are different governances and priorities for different sectors, such as residential children’s homes. Their inspection process has quite specific and different elements, which involves among other things, monthly checks such as the Regulation 44 requirements.

It may come as a surprise to many that the manager of a residential home does not always have full control of their home. While under immense pressure, managers are held highly accountable for the home yet some in senior hierarchy roles are able to dictate elements within the home. What is perhaps stranger still is that managers bare the main responsibility as some of these higher positions, which can directly implement decisions, are void of the same accountability. As a children’s home manager, you can be cautioned and questioned under PACE (Police And Criminal Evidence), with further personal consequences potentially extending to criminal proceedings, high fines and even imprisonment!

Handing Over the Baton

Whatever role you are in, you will recognise the urgency faced when a placement is needed for a young person - more often than not, it is at the last minute and, as it is with everything we do, URGENT!

As a social worker you may place young people in a home with the view that it will be a stable and safe environment for the individual, passing the baton of care to the children’s home. However, children’s homes are themselves at the mercy of external decisions, not just those of financial shortage as all social care is. The placement of individuals in the home habitually conflict with the care of another child already living there and even if the home is settled at the time of placement this can change imminently.

Check Mate!

For those young people in a residential home it becomes a chess game with one life sacrificed for another, as others are placed in the home, sometimes with conflicting behaviours that cause further damage to an already vulnerable child.

This is often done without (or minimal) consultation by residential services. Even when there is a conflicting behaviour known, the voice of the home’s management and the child’s social worker holds little weight when vacant placements are in such high demand. This can lead to some exceptionally damaging situations and a constant life of hyper vigilance for children in that home.

A far cry from the relaxed, caring and protective home it is intended to be.

To Me, To You

For those who have never spent any quality time in a residential home it can be difficult to really understand the challenges both the workers and young people face. To many, a children’s home probably conjures up a picture of a comprehensive care package, but the reality is far from this.

There are few external provisions that offer the level of support needed, and those available rarely see a home as a settled or stable placement in which to begin any work needed.

The catch 22 situation is that young people are often refused a suitable placement until they get the appropriate help.

In addition to this there are extensive logistical challenges as staffing ratios and multiple placements see a tug of war type conflict arise when young people have a variety of needs that each demand time and resources to appropriately meet their basic care on a daily basis, let alone in times of crisis. Workers are often solely responsible for supporting young people through difficult times and strive to be a constant in their life as a parental role, but to support one means another goes without. In addition, workers must seek permission for basic care elements which results in repeated calls to the social worker with requests for transport, contact, health appointments and even the mundane, such as a child wanting to dye their hair.

The Award for Best Supporting Worker goes to…

Such imbalances are why so many residential workers/managers know the young people extensively, have incredible insight into their behaviour and motives, but are often devalued as their hands are tied by conflicting regulations and accountability, beginning as early as the homes admittance paperwork.

I wish I could say that residential homes are a fully encompassing place for a young person but the reality is that there are many restrictive elements, and when a child is placed in a home there are still a lot of requirements and demands for the social worker in order for the Manager, staff and home to meet the needs of the child, and the homes stringent regulations/governance.

I would encourage any social worker to spend some time with a residential home manager in order to fully understand their role and requirements as you are often the first port of call and a vital part in supporting the home maintain its requirements to operate, as well as the daily care of young person placed in that home.”

Want to find out more?

If you agree with the views of CJ Thompson, then why not read his new book, “Fractured Care” which is available from Amazon for just £6.99

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