By Nigel Wilson
Nigel worked as a senior residential child care worker in a local authority children’s home for over 10 years until it was closed down some years ago because of financial cuts. Since then Nigel has been a freelance gardener in Bristol.
The day after this article was published on December 15th, 2015, a former colleague pointed out that children’s homes are now governed by a new set of government regulations and not the ones I was originally referring to in my article and though I didn’t think it changed any of the thoughts i had when I first wrote it, I am impressed by the key principles espoused by the new Department of Education document, Guide to Children’s Homes Regulation, including the quality standards which I will briefly discuss in the second section of my revised article.
A Statement of Purpose
by Nigel Wilson
From 2002 until earlier this year (2015) all children’s home in England were required to operate on the basis of the national minimum standards for children’s homes which were first laid down by the The Department of Health in Children’s Homes: National Minimal Standards: Children’s Homes Regulations (DoH,2002) and later amended by the Department of Education in March 2011.London. In order to meet these minimum standards children’s homes in England were required to have a written Statement of Purpose which described the function of the home and the various systems and resources a home has in order to carry out its function and to meet the national minimum standards.
When I started at the children’s home where I had been appointed as a residential child care worker, for part of my in-house training I was asked to write about how helpful the home’s Statement of Purpose was to me in my care of the children. Here is that piece of writing. I am not sure if it was the kind of response my employers would have wanted. Certainly it is not technically detailed and may be read as mixture of jargon and my own largely undeveloped thoughts but at the time my colleagues thought it was good for discussion and Charles Sharpe of the goodenoughcaring Journal has asked me to present it here. I hope it is of some interest to you.
Our children’s home’s Statement of Purpose is a useful source of information. It is our operational manual and we are expected to be guided by it, but I don’t think it should be engraved in stone. I think it should be an ever changing document and it should alter as the needs of the children alter and as the social and emotional climate of the group changes.
I accept it is the job of organisational policy makers and managerial procedure developers to have these rules in place, after all they are there as an aid to protecting the children, but I believe we, the residential child care workers, are sensitive to what children need as well and to what children are thinking in the here and now and that we should have a hand in making the Statement of Purpose become an ever developing document which applies as far as it can to the needs of our children now.
We can do this by reflecting and discussing within the staff team. the problems which are arising through the days, weeks, months and sometimes years that the children are with us. At the same time we can, through our relationships with the children, find solutions to these problems. It seems to me that we, as residential child care workers, should have the opportunity to convey these matters by way of regular discussion with those who have direct responsibility for writing overall policy which aims at ensuring all children in residential care are safe .
As a residential child care worker I am constantly seeking solutions for the difficulties the children face. When these start to overwhelm me the opportunity to offload them to a colleague can give me temporary emotional relief and an opportunity to think again but this does not put the child’s frustrations to rest. It is when a situation like this arises, I sometimes find the Statement of Purpose does not always help. I can go to it and it will tell me what ought to be in place. but it does not help the child or me to solve the problem of how to put it into place.
I know all solutions are temporary. We solve one problem and the new situation brings up other issues but at least when we are always trying to solve problems the child and the residential child care worker are experiencing the satisfaction gained from creativity, from overcoming a problem rather than being defeated by it and living and suffering with its debilitating consequences.
There are never any final solutions and the Statement of Purpose can’t help with that and in looking for solutions we can often find the cause of the problem is ourselves because we work in a home where troubled children live. It is much more possible and less stressful to look at the personal, mechanical and design problems of a factory production line or the faults in a software programme than to have to make sense of the complexity of the network of relationships going on in children’s home.
In a children’s home you are dealing with relationships. You have to think about how others relate to you and about how you relate to others. This involves the painful process of looking at yourself but in order to stay both physically and emotionally healthy it is essential for you as an individual and as a member of a team made up of other different individuals to be able to do this, that is stay healthy, and to help keep your colleagues healthy so that you can all carry out your function which is to care for and look after kids. This can only be done within a supportive framework. That’s why you have supervision and in a way that’s where the Statement of Purpose can be helpful because it stipulates what our job is and what the children’s home’s job is. It can give us a sense of purpose.
Since April 2015 the National Minimum Standards have been replaced by the Guide to Children’s Homes Regulation, Including Quality Standards . Published by the Department for Education which has taken over the overseeing of Children’s Homes, the new quality standards have been developed from the work of the National Centre for Excellence in Residential Child Care (NCERCC) an organisation which ceased to exist in 2010 because the government cut its funding. I feel that negative gesture was in a sense symbolic of the value successive governments have placed upon residential child care. Nevertheless the quality standards laid down by the new guidelines are underpinned by impressive principles first put forward by the NCERCC.
I quote them here :
Residential Child Care – key principles
Children in residential child care should be loved, happy, healthy, safe from harm and able to develop, thrive and fulfil their potential.
Residential child care should value and nurture each child as an individual with talents, strengths and capabilities that can develop over time.
Residential child care should foster positive relationships, encouraging strong bonds between children and staff in the home on the basis of jointly undertaken activities, shared daily life, domestic and non-domestic routines and established boundaries of acceptable behaviour.
Residential child care should be ambitious, nurturing children’s school learning and out- of-school learning and their ambitions for their future.
Residential child care should be attentive to children’s need, supporting emotional, mental and physical health needs, including repairing earlier damage to self-esteem and encouraging friendships.
Residential child care should be outward facing, working with the wider system of professionals for each child, and with children’s families and communities of origin to sustain links and understand past problems.
Residential child care should have high expectations of staff as committed members of a team, as decision makers and as activity leaders. In support of this, children’s homes should ensure all staff and managers are engaged in on-going learning about their role and the children and families they work with.
Residential child care should provide a safe and stimulating environment in high-quality buildings, with spaces that support nurture and allow privacy as well as common spaces and spaces to be active.
(DfE, 215, p6)
I hope that these principles are held dear in all children’s homes today, but I am told by former colleagues still involved in residential care that there is a trend towards the privatisation of residential child care services and that residential child care has become a service of last resort crisis management. First and foremost private organisations demand profits. It is difficult to feel the notion of love seeping through this way of dealing with children. Has residential child care lost its sense of purpose?
Department of Health (2002) Children’s Home: National Minimal Standards: Children’s Homes Regulations. London. Department of Health.
Department of Education (April, 2015) Guide to Children’s Homes Regulation, Including Quality Standards Guide accessed at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/childrens-homes-regulations-including-quality-standards-guide
See also Richard Rollinson’s letter (2010) about the closure of NCERCC at http://goodenoughcaring.blogspot.co.uk/2010/05/ncercc-richard-rollinsons-letter-to-sir.html
John Molloy comments : “This article came just at the right time. I am working on a revised version of our Statement of Purpose currently. I really thought the brevity of this article was great!