I train staff at children’s homes and schools to manage the risks for children who go missing from care
I work at Keys Childcare, a provider of registered children’s homes and schools. My role as operations manager involves training staff in all our services to increase their knowledge and skills to manage the risks for children who go missing from care or who are at risk of sexual exploitation. I work with the board of directors, senior management team, registered managers and head teachers to develop strategies based on legislation and guidance.
A typical day
Depending on which area I am visiting, my day can start very early. Even if I’m heading up to the head office in Rawtenstall, Lancashire, the day generally begins in the car.
Although I have training plans in place for the services, sometimes the overnight reports, which detail issues and incidents raised to the on-call manager, or a call from an individual home about a new admission completely changes the structure of my day. I have to be able to react quickly because thepoint of my job is to put strategies in place to keep young people safe.
In addition to supporting staff within the homes I also want to engage with young people who are particularly vulnerable. As a company we are looking to gather data and analyse patterns across the organisation in order to target resources, improve services and maintain placement stability. This data helps me to identify high-risk children, as I can examine the risk factors and make informed conclusions about who will become a priority. This means we can take proactive steps to nip any issues in the bud.
This enables me to visit the home to check the risk assessments and care plans, discuss possible new strategies and offer an independent pair of eyes on the problem. It might simply be that the young person needs more activities and engagement. It’s the push/pull effect: we need to make the pull to stay in the home greater than the push to leave.
The issues affecting my work
Missing from care and child sexual exploitation are such huge areas, and have a very high profile in the media. Sometimes I feel I am only scraping the surface. But having a trained and motivated staff team can make a huge difference, and that is what I am aiming for. I am also aware that people often associate sexual exploitation with girls, but it also affects boys and this is something we shouldn’t forget.
Children and young people go missing from care for a myriad of reasons; the main one being simply that they are missing their family and friends and are unsettled in unfamiliar surroundings. Sometimes it’s the typical teenage thrill of risk taking that manifests itself in running away.
What I love about what I do
Despite the challenges there are so many times when the job is unbelievably satisfying. I worked with one young man for two years and he completely changed his behaviour, engaging at school and addressing his criminal actions. Using cognitive behavioural therapy we addressed his offending behaviour by increasing his empathy with victims and his understanding of what the consequences might be. As a result, over a period of time he started to attend school and did not re-offend. I have lots of stories like this and a thank you card or a few grateful words make it all worthwhile.
There is so much satisfaction in watching the staff I have trained engaging with the young people in their care and becoming enthused and motivated to make a difference. They then feel the same fulfilment at a job well done and the life of a young person changed for the better.
What I wish I’d known when I started out
I’ve learnt so much since I came into social work at the age of 24. I had a fairly sheltered upbringing and looking back I was very naïve. Working with young people and families in crisis came as a shock to the young girl I was back then. I now realise that I can’t change the world, I can only do my best. I also know now how much paperwork is involved in social work.
I have been a social worker for more than 18 years. Who knows what the future holds, but I definitely want to continue developing my role to work effectively with the staff teams and the young people at our homes and schools. Young people come and go and it’s a huge undertaking to keep updating our training and strategies and dealing with the many different issues we come across. No youngster is the same and all of them need to be worked with in slightly different ways to give the best chance of a positive outcome.
In an ideal world my role would be redundant, but that is never going to happen. So while I’m on the road travelling to and from our homes and schools I really wish that service stations would review the price of their coffee!