Letters to Community Care, 18 February 2010

Planning curbs on children’s homes

As the owner and operator of a small children’s home, I was interested to see Ann Coffey MP ­suggest closing the perceived “loophole” allowing housing to be changed into children’s homes without planning permission.

Coffey argues that it is unfair on local communities that a domestic property be converted to a care facility for up to six residents without neighbours being consulted. She cited distressed families in her constituency who had suffered from antisocial behaviour from residents of children’s homes they had received no formal consultation over.

One can understand the plight of residents, but we must balance this against the needs of the children in care. How do we ensure that children requiring care get the support they need while protecting the residential amenity of neighbours? Is a change in planning ­regulations the best way to achieve this?

The needs of children are many and varied. The type of household Coffey identifies often provides the right environment for certain groups, delivering a living space that promotes a sense of normality and the familiar. As such, I believe we must be wary of introducing regulations that might limit provision of this type of care in the future.

We must also be wary of the risk of additional stigma attached to the planning process. Unfortunately, children’s care homes are poorly perceived with many negative associations among the public.

There is a risk that potential carers will be put off applying for fear of antagonising neighbours or that a new home will begin operating in an environment where neighbours resent its existence.

The needs of children in care and the aspirations of Coffey would be better served by more effective regulation of homes.

Dr Jacquie Tweedle, owner, The Orchards, Essex

Reducing the foster carer shortage

Annette Webb makes an important point about the need for fostering services to share details of people who are unsuccessful in their applications to foster (“We need to tap into unused carers”, Letters,11 February).

Although many people who apply are not appropriate to be foster carers, someone who may not meet the specific needs of one fostering service could be an excellent foster carer for another.

Sharing these details is one of many recommendations we have made in Recruiting the Foster Care Workforce of the Future, a report published this month by the Fostering Network.

The report, available free from www.fostering.net, also outlines how fostering services can be more targeted in their recruitment efforts to ensure they encourage applications from the people they do need, and put strategies in place to translate more enquiries into approved foster carers.

Greater collaboration between fostering services could help to make inroads into the chronic shortfall of foster carers, at a time when more children need homes.

Helen Clarke, development worker for the recruitment and retention of foster carers, The Fostering Network

Self-defence classes not recommended

I was surprised to read that “social care workers should be trained in self-defence to prepare for violent confrontation with service users” (News, 11 February,).

Skills for Care’s report, Combating Violence against Adult Social Care Staff and Volunteers, referred to self-defence training being one option.

The section quoted in the story, which recommends that “workers recognise potentially violent situations and develop their skills in defusing them or, if necessary, escaping from them”, is not about self-defence training.

The opposite is the case. The guidance states that “it is not recommended that the primary focus of training should be on self defence or restraint”. I don’t think the guidance can be any clearer.

Indeed, it goes further, making it clear that any training in self defence and restraint should only “be given where job requirements and risk assessment dictate it is appropriate”.

So the notion that self-defence training should be offered across the board to social care workers is neither sensible nor is it ­advocated in the guidance that is on our website.

Regrettably, the specific aim of the document only appears in the sixth paragraph of the story where it is rightly pointed out that “staff and volunteers should be trained to recognise signs of agitated or aggressive behaviour in service users before the situations escalate into violence”.

Andrea Rowe, chief executive, Skills for Care

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