Were you ever a member of The Corries folk group?
No, that was another Roy Williamson. I have been confused with him and asked if I had written Flower of Scotland. I hadn’t, but I wish I had.
What made you go into children’s residential care and what was your first job?
I followed my parents into this line of work. I started in 1974 as a residential social worker with the Church of England Children’s Society.
What is the most significant change you’ve seen over the years?
It’s interesting that we seem to be having the same debate now that we had 20 years ago. I remember then there was this big push towards fostering – a couple of local authorities even closed all their children’s homes. But then there was a growing recognition that fostering was not the answer for every child and I think things have turned full circle now with the acknowledgement that residential care still has a crucial role.
What do you see as the most exciting recent development?
I think the blossoming of the one- and two-bed placements that we have seen over the past five years or so is fantastic. These are family oriented placements – akin to fostering, if you like – but with staff supervising group living in a way that can be much more therapeutic than a pressurised family environment.
What do you say to those who see children’s homes as outdated institutions?
I think that it’s just not true these days. It disturbs me when I hear of children moved from one foster placement to another – with every move it’s more likely that the next is going to break down. Some children are just not able to live in a family. The expectation to conform to the way the family operates is just too great. For young people like these, a children’s home can offer the space to develop. Children’s homes today are all about tailoring care to the individual’s needs and preparing them to cope in the community.
As a former foster carer yourself, what did the experience teach you?
We fostered two young lads when I worked for Rochdale social services and we found it a challenging but enriching experience. It’s much harder than a lot of people think but you can make a difference. We’re off on holiday to the US soon to meet one of our boys. He’s in his forties with a child of his own now.
Where do you stand on the policy of placing young offenders in children’s homes?
For a start they are children first but with offending behaviour that needs to be dealt with. When you look at it like that there is no reason necessarily to exclude them from homes. But it is important to ensure that when their lives are in total chaos, with offending and substance misuse going on, then that chaos must not be allowed to impact on anyone else. Again, that is where very small residential placements come into their own – it could be a one-bed children’s home – allowing you to deal with the behaviour without too many distractions.
Are you an optimist or a pessimist?
I don’t think the system is by any means perfect but I really do think we are on the path to getting it right.
➔ Essential information on children in care from www.communitycare.co.uk/childrenincare
This article appeared in the 20 September issue under the headline “Some children just cannot live in a family”