Sharing the care
11 November 2009
Jennifer Davidson, Director of the Scottish Institute for Residential Child Care, urges ambition and commitment as the way forward for the sector
Scotland aspires to a residential childcare service that is internationally renowned for providing the best for our children. This is inspired by the ministerial view that residential care should be 'the first and best placement of choice for those children whose needs it serves'. To turn this rhetoric into reality, a comprehensive National Residential Child Care Initiative (NRCCI) is charged with determining the key levers for change necessary to facilitate this cultural and operational shift.
The NRCCI is an inclusive review, involving an extensive group of stakeholders, which is building on a long-term programme of change for the residential sector. Government, employer and workforce commitment to change is evident, for example, in the inclusion of the residential childcare workforce within the first phase of social services professional registration. It is also seen in the provision and take-up of a variety of training, development and research services delivered by the Scottish Institute for Residential Child Care (SIRCC)2. The activities and commitment of the residential sector, the work of SIRCC, and various Scottish legislative and regulatory mechanisms are substantially increasing qualification levels and specialist knowledge within the sector.
Yet the experiences and outcomes of the children and young people who use these services continue to be poorer than Scotland's ambitions and, as such, their rights are not sufficiently met. NRCCI has recognised the complex challenges to getting it right for these children; even with better residential services, and more skilled and knowledgeable staff, further improvements must be embraced by the wider health, education and social work systems responsible for these children.
NRCCI has found that collaboration between agencies in providing universal and specialist services is essential but currently insufficient. Integrated, holistic assessment is the key to identifying the needs of individual children and young people. Equally, ongoing care planning, assessment and review are crucial in meeting the changing needs of those in residential care. Pressure within the system too often means that placement is resource-led, rather than needs-led.
Residential staff work daily with young people in their care and know a great deal about their needs and preferences, and how they respond to stress. This knowledge and understanding is too often not used effectively to inform assessments and decision-making in relation to transitions and future care planning.
Furthermore, children and young people in residential childcare have a right to participate in decisions not only about their individual care but also the wider provision of services. Too many young people are still not getting the learning opportunities and support they require, and those in residential care have significant physical, mental and emotional health needs that are not sufficiently met.
NRCCI has found that a significant amount of management information could be more usefully deployed to better anticipate children and young people's future needs, and develop measures by which services can be evaluated and developed. A national commissioning framework is also required to promote the development of the highly specialist services required to meet the needs of children with a combination of complex needs.
NRCCI has determined that residential childcare workers are generally paid less than their field social work colleagues, and this has an impact on recruitment and retention of social work staff. There is a critical role for qualified social workers and other professionally qualified staff within residential care teams, and this disparity seriously undermines this aspiration. In addition, the required registration qualification levels of the sector are not yet ambitious enough to ensure that staff are equipped to meet the increasingly complex needs of these children and young people.
The NRCCI will report its findings and recommendations to the Scottish Government in December 2009. The implementation of its recommendations will require practice, operational and strategic changes, and ownership by residential staff, employers, government and professional bodies.
The vision of a world class residential service for the children and young people who need this type of provision is persuasive. The increasing awareness of our 'corporate parenting' responsibilities will, it is hoped, enhance the sector's appetite for a robust implementation of the recommendations emerging from these critical observations.
I welcome the NRCCI report and would add that it is imperative that we strive to work collaboratively with between ALL agencies if we are to adequately meet the complex needs of young people who are required to be Looked After and Accommodated in any given residential care establishment. Creating a Difference that Makes A Difference is vital to successful outcomes in this regard.
GEORGE MORRISON - AIRDRIE, SCOTLAND, ST. PHILIP''S (OPEN) SCHOOL.