Leading a Shift : Life in a Children’s Home

Date Posted: Friday, 2 February 2007


Leading a Shift: Life in a Children’s Home.

Children’s homes like all residential homes need to be staffed around the clock. This necessitates staff working in shift teams. This can present difficulties in maintaining a consistency of care and good communication during shifts and also at those times when one shift finishes and another starts. To overcome these potential difficulties, thoughtful, conscientious and well organised shift leaders are essential. It was with these things in mind that I compiled the following document as an induction aid for new senior residential child care workers who were preparing, as part of their induction, to lead a team of up to 3 residential child care workers over the period of a shift at times when a manager was not present. Since new deputy and assistant managers may also be required to lead a shift it was thought this would be a helpful document for them too. I hope it is a useful document for all residential workers but I am sure that there are other things that could be added to it. I would welcome comments on how I might improve it.
You will notice that I have assumed that there is always an ‘ on-call manager’. I think it is essential that the shiftleader has access to someone with whom she can consult if a serious issue arises during the shift or a critical decision has to be made.


Leading a Shift : a Guide for Managers and Senior Residential Child Care Workers



It is always useful if about an hour before your shift begins you arrange for the current shiftleader to contact you and give you an overview of the previous shift. This may help you to be emotionally ready to lead the shift without being overwhelmed by the sometimes emotional and tired responses of the shift team which is finishing. It will also enable to you to cushion these effects when you and your team start your shift.
This contact can also help you to begin to formulate ideas for the forthcoming shift.
Before you start the shift think about each of the young people and what they will need from you and your team during this shift. Think about each member of your team and what they will need from you during this shift.
When you arrive at the home take the earliest opportunity to communicate with and make emotional contact with each of the young people. Let them know that you are thinking about them. If any are away at school make sure you greet them as soon as they arrive home. When you arrive at the home take the earliest opportunity to communicate with, and be in emotional touch with your team members. Let them know that you are both thinking about them and looking forward to working with them.


Handover meeting and shift planning

Before the handover meeting starts you and the current shiftleader should agree who is to be with the young people while the handover is going on. All other staff should attend the handover meeting and though it is preferable that the member of staff who is with the young people is from the team which is finishing its duty, if a member of the oncoming team is asked to be with the young people, it is important to brief her on the handover immediately after the meeting.
Listen to the handover taking account of the tiredness of the staff who are finishing their shift. It is important not to take on any of their anxieties. It is also essential that staff start their work calmly no matter what the dynamic of the group may be.
Make a careful note of the tasks which the current shift say will need to be done, continued or completed on your shift.
Check the home’s diary for the next 24 hours and consider how you will allocate staff for any appointments which have been made.
During the last ten minutes of the handover meeting make your shift plan and organise for the afternoon, the evening and, if possible, for the next morning and allocate tasks.
Be prepared to be flexible about the shift plan. Don’t refrain from asking your team members for advice, but ensure (discreetly) that it is understood that you retain the responsibility for decision making.
Make sure staff are allotted tasks and while you may wish to assist in enabling them to carry out tasks, only as a final resort should you do tasks allocated to a colleague, but you must ensure that all necessary tasks are carried out.
During the handover make sure that essential recording tasks are allotted, and time is given for them to be carried out. During your shift check that they are carried out These recording tasks will include:

Keeping the log book up to date;
Writing the continuation sheets;
Entering diary appointments;
Recording and checking the administration of medicines;
Carrying out and recording food checks;
Recording incidents in relation to health and safety;
Recording any sanctions;
Recording complaints;
Recording any serious incidents;
Recording the petty cash *

*The inaccurate recording of expenditure has the potential to engender feelings of mistrust within a team and so it is important that the record is properly reconciled. The administration and recording of petty cash transactions must be done by the shiftleader and it is the responsibility of both the outgoing and of the oncoming shiftleader to ensure that when the petty cash is handed over it is correct and the record is correct. Both shift leaders should sign the petty cash book to agree that this has been done. If this is not agreed, the oncoming shiftleader should inform the manager.


De-briefing at the end of a shift

When you are the outgoing shiftleader it is important to telephone the incoming shiftleader, (if she has not already ‘phoned you) to give her an overview of what has happened on your shift.
In the handover meeting the information you communicate should be given in a calm unemotional way in order not to create anxieties for the oncoming shift. This is not to say that you censor, sanitise or massage what you have to communicate but it should be communicated in such a way that the oncoming staff will feel informed to the extent that they feel enabled to contain the home. What you communicate at the end of the handover should not only make sense of what is going on in the home but also it should de-brief your own outgoing team so that they are able to make overall sense of what has gone on during the shift.
Before leaving you must ensure that all the recording and administrative tasks which were required of you and your team have been completed.
Make sure you say goodbye to each of the children before you leave the home and tell them when you will be on duty next. Thank each member of your team for the work they have done and for the support they have given you.


Decision-making and on-call support

If as the shiftleader you have uncertainty about any decisions to be made, particularly those which you think might usually be taken by a manager during the shift, seek telephone advice from the on-call manager. For example, unplanned requests for outside over-night visits where a young person’s claims cannot be substantiated by written records confirming the agreement to such a visit by appropriate persons such as the social worker, or parents.
You should also seek advice from the on-call manager if attempts by you and your team to diffuse a dangerously confrontational situation have failed
In an extremely dangerous situation as a final resort call the police. Remember using police to control emergency situations may exacerbate these situations as well as calm them. Young people expect quite rightly that the police have responsibility to enforce the law, while young people expect residential child care staff to provide nurture in the children’s home and therefore make the home a safe place to live. Careful judgement must be made in order that roles do not become confused, so that no one is put in an undeserved, unhelpful and vulnerable position – the young people, the police and the residential child care workers.
Primary care

As the shiftleader, it is your responsibility to make sure that all the young people are properly fed, and have the necessary and appropriate clothing to carry out any activities they are involved in. These are tasks which you may allocate to staff working with you, but you are responsible for the quality of this aspect of care.


Individual care

It is your responsibility to ensure that each of the young people is respected as a unique individual and to ensure that they all receive individual attention during your shift. Make sure that each member of your team engages with, and remains emotionally in touch with each of the young people during your shift.


The group

If you are uncertain about the mood of the whole group allocate any appointments and activities out of the children’s home to another staff member. Never send inexperienced, or indeed, depending on the circumstances, experienced staff out on an activity with a group if you have a concern that it will be unsafe.



You should lead the staff in sensitively settling the young people down at bedtime. You are also responsible for assuring that the young people have settled down to sleep. If a young person is absent from your care you must make a judgment on the likelihood of the young person returning and whether you must stay up to welcome the young person on their return and to settle them down to sleep. It is important when making such a judgement to consider the best interests of the young person and of the young people who are asleep.
As soon as you are assured that the young people are settled, you must make a thorough external and internal check of the home to ensure that it is secure and that the young people are safe from the possibility of intruders.
You should lead the staff in sensitively waking the young people so that they are able to wash, dress, have breakfast and be ready to attend school on time.


Fire safety

Ensure that at least four times a year you carry out a fire drill on your shift and record the response in the appropriate record book.


Health and safety

Always be aware of the safety aspects of the environment in the home, in particular any which are potentially life endangering. Ensure that repairs are carried out immediately, or as soon as possible, and take immediate temporary action to isolate and make safe dangerous areas or equipment until permanent repairs can be made.


Absence from care

Ensure that any young people absent from our care are reported as missing to the police at the appropriate time.


Expenditure on shift

Monitor expenditure on activities and recreation to ensure that they are not being used as “sleeping carers” in order to buy silence for a few hours.


Professional ethics

You should always exhibit an exemplary and ethically professional approach to both staff and young people during your shifts. This means engaging with others, children and adults, in a friendly and respectful manner.


Disciplinary responsibilities

You will also have a responsibility to challenge and deal with any professional misconduct of colleagues and report these immediately to the Care Manager.


Handover meetings involving the young people and staff

If the children’s home has its own educational provision and all the young people attend this provision, it becomes possible for an additional handover meeting to take place that firstly allows everyone to reflect on the issues which have arisen during the last twenty four hours (the usual duration of a shift) and secondly involves everyone in the planning for the next shift. The first part of this meeting should be facilitated by the outgoing shiftleader while the second should be facilitated by the incoming shiftleader. It is important for the shiftleaders to make sure that this is a consultative meeting and not merely one in which staff dictate the agenda. In homes where most or all of the young people go out to school meetings involving all the people involved in the community of the home have to take place at other times and the shiftleader at such a time should facilitate the meeting.


Charles Sharpe 1997; revised June 2006; revised July 2006

©  goodenoughcaring.com and Charles Sharpe 2006