8 OCTOBER 2008
The research highlighted areas of good residential practice. There was evidence of young people experiencing good support, improving living environments and increased opportunities. Many staff were working hard to ensure that young people had positive experiences. Participants mentioned how important staff attitude was to their well-being. In particular, a sense of being listened to, being cared about and being worthy of spending time with were features contributing to a positive care experience. Cavet and Sloper (2004), in their review of children's participation in service development, found that a listening culture among staff is extremely important and our findings uphold this.
Staff often did not have enough time for the young people with whom they worked. Young people identified low staff ratios as a problem and this was reflected as having a negative impact on care. Scotland, in common with the rest of Britain, continues to struggle with recruitment and retention for social work in general and residential child care in particular. Figures from the Scottish Executive (2004) indicate that social services are running with eight percent vacancies. The Department of Health (2001) reported that difficulties in filling vacancies are due to low pay, unattractive conditions of service, low status and lack of career progression for social care staff. Heron and Chakrabarti (2003) reported that:
inequalities of residential child care, most noticeable in terms of its
residualisation and failure to educate and professionalise staff, have
been an enduring feature [of the service].
(Heron and Chakrabarti, 2003, p. 93).
A recurring theme was poor staff training. It was surprising how aware young people were about staff training. They believed that better staff training would improve their care. With the establishment of the Scottish Social Services Council in Scotland and the General Social Care Council in England, registration requirements for residential child care workers have now been set. It may be that this area will improve in the future. Our research suggests that units should have strategies for training which include how to enhance relationships with young people and how to encourage meaningful participation.
The importance of trust and safety came up in various guises throughout the study. Young people who are in care due to adverse life experiences will struggle initially to form relationships with staff, and this can have an effect on trust. Commentators such as Daniel, Gilligan and Wassell (1999) 'emphasise the importance of relationships as fundamental to the human condition as well as to the helping process.' (Daniel et al, 1999, p. 14) This has implications for trust and a feeling of safety. The young people in this study were clear that good relationships between staff and individual young people are essential to build trust. The development and nurturing of relationships should have a central role in the activities of staff. Sadly, a large number of the young people in this study did not feel safe all of the time, with worrying numbers not feeling safe at any time. Threats to safety came from other young people, sometimes from their families, and very occasionally from staff. Other young people were mentioned most often as contributing to a feeling of being unsafe. These comments concur with the findings of researchers such as Kendrick (1998).
Young people discussed the importance of staying in contact with families. This standard was rated as one of the most important. While some young people had staff who helped them to keep contact, others were not given the assistance they required. Given the emphasis on partnership within legislation, and the findings from research which show that the majority of children return home to their families after a period in care (Bullock, Little and Milham, 1993), ii appears that units could improve their practice in this area.
IRENE STEVENS AND
Stevens, I. and Boyce, P. (2006). The National Care
Standards: Hearing the voices of young people in residential care.
Scottish Journal of Residential Child Care, 5, 1. pp. 11-12.
Bullock, R., Little, M. and Millham, S. (1993). Going home. Aldershot: Dartmouth.
Cavet.J. and Sloper. P (2004). The participation of children and young people in decisions about UK service development. Child Care, Health and Development, 30, 6. pp. 613-621.
Daniel, B., Gilligan, R. and Wassell, S. (1999). Child development for child care and protection workers. London. Jessica Kingsley.
Department of Health. (2001). Perceptions of social work and social care: a report of findings. London. HMSO.
Heron, G. and Chakrabarti, M. (2003). Exploring the perceptions of staff towards children and young people living in community-based children's homes. Journal Social Work, 3, 1. pp. 81-98.
Kendrick, A. (1998). Bullying and peer abuse in residential child care: a brief review. Glasgow. Centre For Residential Child Care.
Scottish Executive, (2004). Briefing report on the
social services workforce. Edinburgh. Scottish Executive.