In the 1990s Bradford, like many social services departments, started closing its children’s residential care units. However, it subsequently saw a rise in the number of children being placed outside the district in expensive placements, which varied significantly in their quality of provision and interventions. By the end of 1998, Bradford’s out-of-district placements totalled 30 but by 2003 it was 158.
For the staff in the units that were not closed, human resources records tell a story of recruitment and retention difficulties, over-dependence on agency staff, high levels of sickness absence, lack of training, and an increase in management investigations. In other words, a picture of low morale and demotivation.
Following a Best Value review of residential care in 2000, the council agreed to build five new children’s homes within three years with the aims of increasing the number of in-house residential care beds by 28, reducing the use of out-of-district placements, developing a career structure for residential workers, and replacing two sub-standard homes.
Since the children’s homes required 60 new staff, a workforce development review was devised that examined all aspects of residential staff conditions. This was done in consultation with staff and included training and qualifications, competency requirements, new job descriptions, building career development, improving the sleeping-in arrangements, and a more rigorous recruitment process.
The review had different elements to it:
- An analysis of the council’s workforce structure and an audit of employees’ skills, knowledge, and experience.
- A consultation process with staff.
- Developing a workforce needs plan with the help of guidance from the national occupational standards Training Organisation in Personal Social Services (now Skills for Care), and from the children’s homes national minimum standards.
A comparison was made with other local authorities’ residential care provision, which was important in helping to find a quality and practical benchmark to inform any subsequent improvements we needed to make – bearing in mind we were all using the same recruitment pool.
The council carried out evaluations of job descriptions and person specifications, which incorporated new core competences from the national minimum standards and national occupational standards. Both were completely overhauled to reflect higher levels of professional expectation for residential work. New qualification requirements were included in job descriptions and a career structure was developed.
But it became apparent that a more radical and innovative approach was required. The answer lay in the creation of a trainee residential social worker post. A three-year traineeship was introduced to attract new blood into residential care. For the first 12 months, trainee residential practitioners undertake a mandatory training programme in national induction standards and national foundation standards and the basics of residential care, after which they enter onto national vocational qualification level three.
After two years when this is successfully completed, the trainee becomes a fully fledged residential practitioner with a nationally recognised qualification and a substantial pay increase. Senior residential practitioner posts were reintroduced and nationally advertised. Senior staff were also encouraged and supported to take up NVQ level four which also came with a further pay increase when successfully completed.
Unit managers and assistant unit managers were required to have NVQ level four or DipSW and work towards a management qualification which would then give them the registered managers award. Secondments to DipSW were traditionally ringfenced for field work staff but these were opened up to include senior residential staff.
One of our units that was experiencing particular difficulties with children at night time started employing night staff to be active and awake at all times. When this proved to be successful they were introduced over 18 months to all units and sleep-ins were phased out. Their terms and conditions are the same as for other residential staff.
Traditionally, ancillary staff carried out legislative training such as hazards, health and safety, lifting and so on. They too now have the opportunity to gain a NVQ level two in support service.
Training as a core requirement was made a central part of formal supervision and the annual performance appraisal and development scheme. The aim was to create a continuous learning and development culture in residential care and to fairly reward staff for their commitment.
The key to getting a positive outcome for this programme of work was a wide consultation with all residential staff and the involvement of different departments and stakeholders in the process from start to finish. Apart from the close co-operation between HR and social services, the finance department was crucial in terms of advice on budgets and cost implications. Similarly, the involvement of the unions was also crucial in building and maintaining good workforce relations during a substantial change programme.
Bradford currently supports 97 employees in the residential service who are undertaking a professional qualification. That figure alone shows a real change in residential care in Bradford and is a clear indication that we now have a real learning culture and career structure in the service.
With the expansion of the service through considerable investment and the development of a career structure supported by increased training and pay, Bradford has not only declared the importance of residential care for children but also that quality matters in the form of state of the art buildings, good environments and well trained, motivated and supported staff.
The rewards are substantial in terms of staffing and improved outcomes for children. We now see high staff morale resulting in significantly improved levels of sickness absence and a steep decline in disciplinary investigations. Increased levels of competences combined with stability within units have produced astonishing statistics – staff turnover has fallen from 22 per cent to 3 per cent, with the level of qualified staff rising from 8 per cent to 68 per cent.
The impact on the quality of service for children is also well evidenced. Performance indicators reflect excellent placement stability and educational achievements improve year on year. Reducing out-of-district placements by 50 in three years has created greater opportunities for improved outcomes for those young people.
Training and Learning
The author has provided questions about this article to guide discussion in teams. These can be viewed at www.communitycare.co.uk/prtl and individuals’ learning from the discussion can be registered on a free, password-protected training log held on the site. This is a service from Community Care for all GSCC-registered professionals.
This article looks at the recruitment and training challenges, and the development of a career structure for residential staff, within the context of an expansion of the residential service in Bradford. The community homes development programme set the target of building five new homes as the centrepiece for reducing the need for out-of-district placements. The recruitment and development of 60 extra staff were crucial to the success of the strategy.
Contact the Author
Lal Saki is the divisional service manager for children’s resources at Bradford Council. He is responsible for residential care, fostering and adoption, leaving care services, immigration and asylum services and out-of-district placements. He also has previous experience in managing and developing family support services in Doncaster.