Podcast Episode: Careers in Care: Residential care
Category: Practitioner stories
What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.
MD - Michelle Drumm
E - Elaine
G - Greg
C - Charlotte
T - Tasha
On 16th September 2019, Iriss attended the launch of the SSSC’s Careers in Care website, which was created to highlight the wide variety of career opportunities available in the sector. The resource demonstrates how people can build a career working with children and young people in social services and healthcare settings, or as a social worker. We spoke to social services practitioners who shared their career stories for use on the website. In this first episode of three, Greg and Elaine, two Residential Care Managers, tell us about their journeys into careers in care. Charlotte and Tasha, two young people supported at the residential home, also provide their views on what it takes to be a residential care worker.
MD So I’m here with Elaine and Greg who are Residential Care Managers. Did you always want to work with children and young people?
G A long, long time ago I wanted to do social work when I was at school and I met with my Career’s Officer, and although my qualifications were quite good, he said “you don’t want to do social work, it’s a horrible job”. So that kind of put me off and then I didn’t know what I wanted to do after that - I ended up doing a Business course - it wasn’t for me, and I was kind of struggling, because social work was what I wanted to do. But I had an aunt that worked in social work in northwest Glasgow and she said “why don’t you apply as a temporary job in a children’s unit?” And I thought “alright, okay, well I’ll have a go”. And I went along, and I had an interview which lasted about ten seconds, and the only question I was asked was “do you know how to change a baby’s nappy?” That was the question and I said “yeah I do”, and he said “that’s fine, when can you start?” So that was me, I started as a temporary worker and after … I think after a few days I thought “wow, is this the job I want to do?” It was really, really complicated, really diverse - it was a big massive children’s home, the kind of west end of Glasgow. A lovely big building, set over three levels, with a minimum of twenty three young people and two staff on duty at any one time over three levels. It was chaotic. It was really, really, difficult. I used to get followed down the road to the train station by three of the boys that wanted to fight me … because of my age - I started … I was just turned twenty, and these guys were fifteen, sixteen, saw me as a kind of challenge, and I used to get followed down to the train station by the three of them. So that’s when I thought “is this the job for me?” That was my kind of tipping point - “is this it?” But I worked through those issues - I ended up having good relationships with the boys - I used to take one of them golfing all the time, and then after six months I applied for the permanent post and I got that. So that’s how I started. So back in those days, it was a ‘house parent’ you were called, even though some of the boys were only about three years younger than me, I was a ‘house parent’.
MD Out of interest, how did you manage to build up the relationships?
G Perseverance - I think just sticking in there and just kind of realising they’re not actually angry at me - there’s other stuff that went on in their lives that they’re really angry about. They’ve got a mistrust of adults, and that the kind of stuff you kind of learned. And as I say, the perseverance and coming in maybe on my days off and taking one of the boys, who was the kind of ringleader - taking him golfing, and we kind of hit it off from there. He had an interest in cars, and he is the guy who got me into cars all those years ago. So it was that kind of mutual sharing of information and just kind of understanding each other.
MD Yes, that shows great commitment on your part.
G Yeah, yeah. But in those days it was kind of make or break. I thought “is this for me?”, and I really did consider it. But I worked through that and that’s where I still am, all these years later - just kind of worked my way through. I’ve been … local authority is my background, so I went from there to an Assessment Centre, and then from there into various Children’s Homes, and then I’ve taken the plunge into the private sector about eight months ago, which was again a big step because it’s always been local authority. Very enjoyable, very different - a lot more you can do - there’s less restrictions, there’s less red tape, and I think it’s, you know, it’s a different kind of challenge. But the essence of it is you are still working with young people and you want to make a difference - you want to see them do well, and it’s years later … what keeps me going is when young people come back years later and they’re doing really well, and you just think “that’s … that makes it for me”. That’s all I need to keep me going.
MD Brilliant, thanks, Greg.
G No bother.
MD Elaine, what about yourself?
E So yeah, I definitely always wanted to work with children and young people - but probably from a different angle So I wanted to be a teacher - a Geography teacher to start off with, but didn’t quite make the cut in terms of the grades. So I found myself at Uni doing a Social Sciences Degree with no clue what I was going to do with that. And then I went travelling for a wee while and worked a couple of jobs, and one of those was in a plumber’s office. And while I was working one evening, I came across an article in a newspaper for a job in a children’s home, and I thought “I’m going to give that a bash - that sounds like a great turn”. And I went along for an interview, and it was a bit different to what Greg spoke about, so this would be 15 years ago, and it was a whole day assessment centre with a group interview, individual interviews, interviews with young people - loads of different activities … and thankfully I got the job, started and instantly knew that that was definitely what I wanted to do - it was instant. And maybe, a bit of a contrast to Greg, it was the chaos of it that attracted me - so I was really determined by the chaos that I was going to iron out that - that I would be able to make sure that there wasn’t as much chaos.
MD Because you have both communicated a kind of, “I’m going to give this job a shot - I’m going to go for it, it seems interesting” …
G Uh huh.
MD … it seems interesting - and actually you are going into what are potentially quite complex environments, but you both thrived.
E Yeah, absolutely.
MD Why do you think that is?
E I think one of the main things for me, right at the beginning, was having a really good mentor. When I started, the person that I was paired with was probably of the same kind of attitude, and maybe was quite tenacious, is maybe the right word. And I think her knowledge and her ability to share that knowledge with me in a way, relationally, and not in a way that was kind of academic, was really, really powerful I think.
MD What about you Greg?
G I think for me, I didn’t have a mentor as such - I think it was just more how relationships developed with the young people. I think when I saw that changing, when I wasn’t getting followed down the road every day with folk wanting to fight me, it kind of changed - there was a changing then, and there was an acceptance, and I think they kind of understood that I was there to try and help them and listen to some of their issues that they had. It was a long process, but by the end of the 6 months I could see I was beginning to get on quite well with the boys. And for me, I’ve said “right, this is worth persevering with”. And then after that I started working with some members of staff that I learned a lot more from - but it was only once I moved from the children’s home to an assessment centre that I kind of understood the kind of rules and boundaries and consequences - and I kind of added that into what I already knew in terms of relationships. So I’m now at a stage, you kind of need a bit of everything, so that was a big kind of lesson for me.
MD And tell me, like what does a typical day look like for you guys?
E Wow, now that’s a big question!
MD Is that a big question?
E Maybe you guys could answer that one, what does a typical day look like for a residential worker? What do you think it’s like? What do you see us doing?
C Different every day, there’s nothing that’s the same. Different challenges, different everything.
E What kind of challenges?
C Challenges within the young people - something could happen in their family life and it just comes out - and it can come out in different ways - they can kick off, explode, all different ways. Or channel it, or talk to staff and get through it - work through it. But it’s different for everybody.
E And how many times have you been, where there’s been a plan in place, and then something has happened with somebody else that you know nothing about, and everything’s changed?
C Aye, like say I’ve got a plan to go to the cinema or pool and something else has happened with another young person and they need to use the car - and then you cannae, and it’s like … the whole world’s gone, because it’s such a big thing - you just want out the house to do something. And it is, but you’ve got to remember there’s other young people in the house with you - and if something happened with my family, I’d want like the car, obviously, and I wouldn’t want anybody kicking off about it, because it’s my family. So you’ve got to show respect for staff and young people.
E And I think what’s really important about that, is that’s probably one of the most difficult things for residential workers and for young people - living in a house where you’re responding, you know, as quickly as the wind changes direction, you are having to make a new decision about what’s happening. But the impact of that on everybody else is huge, and trying to keep that in mind, so as little disruption as possible happens, and I think that’s probably, like the key skill that you have, is being able to kind of go with the flow and make changes and make decisions quickly, and have as little impact as possible on everybody else round about. So ideally those things happen and the young person doesn’t even know there’s anything else going on with someone else, because … they can maybe sense it, because they’ve got spidey sense, for sure - so they can maybe sense it, but they see that your response is just the same as it should be. And I think that’s something that is really, really important.
MD Uh huh, so responsiveness is a really key skill for your guys.
G Very much so.
MD What are the real skills that you need to do your jobs?
E I would put listening right up there, being able to hear … and what I say that, I don’t mean just hear what’s being said. There’s a phrase that we use in residential about reading the weather … basically you make the weather within the house - so being able to read the situations that are going on in every corner of it, almost like an assessment of the day to day situation - and being able to listen to all the bits that are happening about the house, to put together. So I think listening is like right up there, and I guess you guys are best to answer that one as well. What do you think?
T Listening, and just like understanding. So like even if I’m angry or like if you’re swearing, just like to not give us into trouble - you need to be able to be patient as well … and not take things personally - like have thick skin.
E You said something really good to me last week about how people respond to you sometimes when you’re maybe like a little bit upset, or being a little bit narky. You said sometimes it’s really good if people can just give you it back, like be real with you?
T Yeah, like have a joke.
E Yeah, have a joke with you, and just be real, and not get caught up, but just be genuine.
C The one big thing for me is for staff to be dead down to earth and just funny, and you can have a laugh with, and just have a good time. And I think laughing is … obviously, like for me, laughing is better than crying, because it helps, laughing.
MD It frees up tension, doesn’t it, yeah?
T You need to be realistic as well though - so not like start telling you that you need to like breath deeply or like run down the street to calm down - they need to be realistic that like that’s not going to be the first thing on your mind if you’re upset. You know, like you’ll just explode - you are not going to like have time to stop and think, like you’re going to do your breathing techniques.
E What was the other thing that you said to me, the other day, if somebody says that to me, I’ll definitely not do it? Do you remember?
T Yeah, like you’ll do the opposite. So if somebody told you like, yeah like “calm down”, obviously you’re not going to calm down.
E Red flag to a bull.
MD Yeah, so there’s a little bit of creativity required perhaps as well?
E And curiosity as well, that’s another one, like … I think it’s easy to just be always smiley and just touching the surface - but I think the bit about having real relationships is being able to ask questions.
C The hard questions.
E Yeah, the hard questions. Being able to … when you see that smile that you know is not really a smile - being able to say “so I see you smiling, but you look like, there might be something else on your mind”. And I think that’s how you get to the bit where you can have genuine relationships that are supportive.
C I think getting to know the kids and not just reading their case file and making a decision then, what you think they’re going to be like or who they are as a person. Get to know them as a person, not as a file.
E That’s huge.
T I wrote my own VSQ (… UNCLEAR) as well.
E You did, just recently yeah.
MD You guys will have to read the case files at some point, but you don’t let them influence you too much in terms of the support then?
E So I guess timing … yeah, and I guess it depends on … so for ourselves, young people are referred to our service, so we read the case files before we meet them to make a decision about whether or not our service can support the young person. And I guess doing that, with our experience, an in our position, we have to be able to have that knowledge here and then have another opening to be able to meet the young person and make, you know, judgements and decisions and assessments and valuations when we meet them. And I guess, for me, there’s something about, when people come into a service … and we’ve just recruited a couple of new people … and historically they would have been handed the case file and said “read the case file”. But what we’ve said “don’t do that”. So let’s do some training, let’s do some interaction, let’s spend some time with the young people - and then bit by bit, here are the parts of the case file that I think you need to read, and here’s the kind of order that I think that you need to know that information … in order to help people get a better understanding. Because sometimes, if you’re reading a case file, it’s years and years old …
G Uh huh, that’s right.
E … and Natasha wrote a piece of paperwork that we use to help us support Natasha when things are difficult. She was reading one, her own, the other night there - and I didn’t recognise who she was talking about - so she wrote her own.
T (… UNCLEAR) Natasha, and I know myself better than like staff know.
E Yeah, and some of those things were right, but from a long, long time ago. And it’s about, sometimes people get a wee bit scared to take away the stuff that we already knew in case it comes back and you’ve not documented it. But I guess that’s a real skill of being a residential worker, is being able to know what’s relevant now.
MD Yeah, you can easily make assumptions as well …
G Yeah, yeah, everybody does.
T You grow up as well - because I was thirteen when I came into the house and now I’m sixteen. So like I’ve changed a lot, so like none of it is going to be the same. I’d say I change every day.
E You could be right.
G I’d agree with that.
E There’s another skill that you need as a residential worker!
MD Great, thank you. Are there good learning and development opportunities in your careers?
G I’d say so, there’s lots and lots of scope for learning and development. I’m just back from the SCM Instructor course, so that was gruelling, in a good way, but very demanding - you know, it really kind of took you through your paces, and an awful lot of theory. There’s very little in terms of kind of the kind of physical aspect of it - the theory is abundant - there’s a lot of good learning there. It’s made me think differently about the way I work, and I’ve been doing this job for over thirty years now, just over thirty years, so it’s a long, long time - but that’s pushed me in certain other ways, make me reconsider certain kind of courses of action and looking at my own development and different ways of kind of managing situations. So there’s lots and lots of scope - there’s plenty of training going.
E There’s quite a lot from local authorities as well in terms of a lot of partnerships. With the Health & Social Care Partnerships merging, there’s a lot of opportunities to tie into kind of mental health training courses, and I guess child protection training courses and things along those lines. But as a registered worker, you have to complete your SVQ3 in Children & Young People … although I’m not sure if that’s its correct name now? Health & Social Care, Children & Young People … and you also need to do an HNC qualification or above, so … but Strathclyde Uni also offer the Masters in Residential Childcare and I’ve just completed that, which was a huge, huge benefit to me. And I kind of think probably came at the right time in my career as well, but really, really a fantastic course that made me think a lot more about how to create an ‘environment’, if you like, and how to support that environment staying that way. And it gives kind of options for progression at different levels as well, so yes, there’s lots and lots of different training opportunities. Government-wide there’s loads of resources that you can access online as well.
MD Yeah the SSSC obviously …
E Yeah, and there’s the badges as well that the SSSC have got.
MD And what kind of advice would you offer to those who are thinking about working in this area?
E I would say do it!
G Definitely do it!
E Go for it, yeah, it’s so rewarding.
MD I suppose like, in a way, you guys are going with gut instinct as well, so if other people are feeling that way, if they feel it’s for them, to definitely explore it.
E Yeah, absolutely. It’s so different very day - every single day is … you know, you have just no idea what you’re going into. Planning is really, really crucial, but you have to know that the likelihood of your plans working out are probably pretty slim. I would say, I mean for me, without a shadow of a doubt, it’s the best job in the world - but I would also say it’s not for everyone, and it doesn’t fall within the typical realms of what a ‘job’ means to people. So it requires much more of you personally than other occupations or other jobs. And I think if you’re willing to do that, then you would have a great time working in this line of work.
MD And can I ask you two as well - how important is it for you guys to have the likes of Greg and Elaine?
C I think it’s important to have staff that care about what they’re doing and want to make opportunities for the young peoples. Because if you get a worker that comes in and just comes in, does what they need to do and leaves and gets a pay check - that’s not helping anybody, because it shows when you know … when you see somebody that doesn’t really want to be there … but staff that care and it doesn’t matter how much abuse you give them - they keep coming back because they care about what they’re doing.
T I like having different faces every day, because like in foster care you’ve got like a foster Mum and a foster Dad, or like a foster Mum or a foster Dad - and you’re just like … you see the same face every day. And it’s like if they’ve already made up their judgement of you, then like that’s it every day. But like being in the residential it’s like - there’s always different like workers in every day - so there’s always a change of face and there’s always like somebody that will maybe understand like that situation better than others. So you’ve always got like somebody to talk to and help you.
E I think that’s a really important point as well, because quite often people think that residential is the last resort for where kids should go - that they’ve tried, or exhausted all other possibilities. But in actual fact, in my experience, most kids that are in residential do better than they have done when they’ve been in foster care. And it’s for that very reason, because they already have a family - and what they need is support around them to support that family life, and not to replace their family. But to be there as an extension of the family … and having a lot of people do that’s easy.
MD Okay, I think we can leave it there.
E Okay dokey.
MD Yeah, thank you all so very much for all your input.
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