To an outsider, the only clue that Bullrush Cottage in Stafford is anything other than a normal – albeit rather grand and spotlessly tidy – family home is the “Now wash your hands” sign in the toilet and the fire evacuation notice on the hall wall.
In fact, Bullrush is a three-bed children’s home, run by private provider Educare Adolescent Services, that recently became one of only around 40 homes across the country to be classified as “outstanding” by children’s services inspection body Ofsted.
Set in glorious Staffordshire countryside, the large house boasts a huge garden, a games room, and a sun lounge in addition to the children’s bedrooms, staff sleepover rooms, kitchen, lounge-diner and office. It is the former home of Ozzy Osborne and his first wife – and the scene of his alleged chicken-killing spree following a marital row.
But even more impressive than the standard of the accommodation on offer is the quality of the care delivered there, thanks largely to the style of leadership provided and the passion and commitment of the staff.
During the day, there are three residential care workers on duty at all times – one per child – as well as unit manager Shelly Willis. Young people’s participation in the running of the home is essential to its success. Meals are prepared and eaten as a group, as this provides a valuable opportunity to develop relationships between residents and staff. Educare regional manager Hilary Jones says it is essential that young people feel that they are at the centre of life in the home. “Feeling cared for and listened to is every young person’s right.”
The only locked door is that to the staff office in order to ensure all paperwork remains confidential, although the children can also lock their own bedroom doors from the inside if they so choose.
For each child, as well as a placement plan there is a behaviour management plan which provides staff with step-by-step instructions of how to deal with a child if they abscond or are aggressive or destructive based on what works best with that particular individual. Through this type of care planning, staff are able to identify, plan, intervene and monitor – all essential steps to achieving positive outcomes – and, wherever possible, the home prefers to employ positive reward schemes rather than punitive measures.
Educare is fully committed to working in partnership with families and other professionals. Weekly and monthly progress reports are sent to each child’s social worker, as well as their family. Good working relationships have been established in Staffordshire with the police, the local youth offending team, local child protection officers, local schools and relevant voluntary agencies providing advocacy services and alcohol and drug addiction services.
Underpinning the quality of care at Bullrush Cottage is an emphasis on reflective practice and on ensuring that each staff member knows their own and each other’s strengths, weaknesses and personality traits. Jones is passionate about this focus on staff self-awareness, believing that effective resdiental care depends upon the emotional competence of staff.
Jones says people can be divided into three types – “visuals”, “auditories” and “kinisthetics” – according to whether they primarily see things, hear things or feel things. Understanding which type you are and which type your colleagues are improves self-awareness and communication, she explains, allowing staff to be more aware of their interactions with each other and with residents, and allowing managers to ensure a balanced team.
“In this job, you have to have a great deal of self-knowledge and understand the impact you have on others,” insists Jones, who describes herself as a “visual”. “You have got to be able to self-reflect and accept criticism. It is about continuously learning and evolving.
“Self reflection and insight on an individual and group level promotes more productive engagement. And humour and compassion gives us a head start.”
Formal training is also important. Each new member of staff taken on at Educare immediately embarks on the Children’s Workforce Development Council’s induction standards, as well as receiving regular supervision.
If they pass their six-month probation period and are confirmed in post, they are then signed up to do an NVQ level 3. Beyond this, Educare’s training department is happy to respond to requests for bespoke training or for support for individuals wishing to study for additional qualifications.
This focus on the personal and professional development of staff is reflected in impressive retention rates in a sector better known for high staff turnover.
Those who do leave tend to do go to a different sector rather than a competitor, either because they are not suitable for this line of work or because of the impact of the job on their personal life. As assistant regional manager David McMurtrie says: “You do have to be prepared to drop everything for this job.”
● Recruit quality managers.
● Maintain high expectations.
● Ensure staff have passion.
● Develop staff self-awareness.
● Help staff believe in themselves, the children and residential care.
For more information contact Educare via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 01952 238020.
● Recruit quality managers.
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This article appeared in the 8 November issue under the headline “Open doors and open minds”