“A good residential care home is like a greenhouse,” says Daniel Ruaux, Assistant Director of Corporate Parenting at West Sussex County Council. “If you get the chemistry right you get a lot of warmth, a lot of nurture, you get strong roots and children grow tall and proud. But it’s also very fragile. It’s about having the right leaders and staff in the right environment but who also believe in what they are doing, because if they don’t it doesn’t work.”
Over the last three years, children’s residential care in West Sussex has undergone significant change, with investment in staffing numbers, the range of provision and activities for the children and the fabric of the buildings. During that time, one of its three current homes, two of which cater for disabled children, has gone from ‘good’ to ‘outstanding’, while the others remain ‘good’ with ‘outstanding’ features.
Now, three homes that closed in 2018 are due to reopen this spring, modernised, refurbished and with a new focus – one will be a disabled children’s homes, the second providing an assessment and emergency service with the third having an edge of care focus. Daniel and Children’s Residential Services Lead Julian Skeates are looking for staff with the values, commitment and creativity to make a difference to the lives of the children and young people who will live there, as well as in the existing homes.
The authority is recruiting residential childcare workers, team leaders and home managers. While the latter two roles require previous sector experience, childcare, this is not essential for the childcare worker roles.
Across all the positions, Julian stresses, it is character traits the authority is after.
‘More than just a job’
“It’s more than just a job,” he says. “You are going to be part of waking up children, you are going to be part of helping them go to sleep. If you are in the disability sector, you will be part of personal care. These are traumatised children and you will see them at the very lowest, educationally failing, emotionally struggling, so that stickability is what we’re looking for as well. That willingness not to give up.”
Daniel agrees: “I’m looking for people who want to ensure that children in West Sussex have the right opportunities, the right life experiences, and people who genuinely care for and love them, rather than people who are seeing this as just a job opportunity.”
Besides the right value base, they are seeking staff with the ability to challenge existing ways of thinking.
“I want people who are going to challenge traditional ways of thinking and be confident in bringing new ways of working into the organisation,” Daniel adds. “I want people in the business who are here for the long haul, who are really interested in developing something, not just joining something and following the party line.”
In return, you will receive competitive salaries – compared with local private providers and other local authorities – and a significant training package, including, for those in leadership roles, access to the county’s new management development programme.
The chance to make a difference
Most of all, there is the chance to make a difference.
Daniel adds: “While residential isn’t the right provision for many children, for those who need it, it can be life-changing and if you get that right, the opportunities for children to fully maximise their potential is astronomical.”
Despite the significant change to date, West Sussex is not standing still. Over the coming years, it is looking to invest in single-bed homes and specialist provision to keep more children who currently have to be placed out of county closer to home, particularly those who are being exploited.
“A lot of local authorities will move these children out of their local area and children will naturally want to return to those roots,” says Julian. “We recognise there’s a need for solo placements for children who are being criminally exploited and sexually exploited, so we can support them in the best way we can.”
Daniel adds: “We are looking to confront the challenge of small bespoke residential provision, there’s not enough nationally. We are not waiting for providers to do that, we are going to do that ourselves. So we’re looking to develop one- or two-bed children’s homes with the right therapeutic infrastructure, with support to step down children to their families where appropriate.”
If you are interested in applying for a job in one of West Sussex’s children’s homes, check out the latest vacancies here.