After fostering, residential care is perhaps the most committed and focussed form of working with troubled kids.
It’s hard graft and requires exquisite skill to do it well
Here are a few tips to help & encourage…
I worked in residential childcare for three and a half years. All of it in a secure children’s home with some of the most damaged and challenging young people in the U.K.
So I know a bit about how it goes. And I take my hat off to everyone who’s chosen it as their career.
Each young person has their own unique set of complexities. But ressy staff have to deal with even more than that…
- They have to deal with each child according to their need, but…
- Then they have to deal with the result of numerous other young people, all living together!
It’s such a huge task that it’s almost impossible to describe the true nature and extent of this challenge to those who haven’t experienced it.
Today I’m not going to try – that’s for another time…
A helping hand…
For today I just want to share a few of my own thoughts about how ressy staff can keep going and get better, despite the massive challenges they confront each day.
So here goes – a mixture of tips, tricks and reminders. Probably nothing new – but hopefully it’ll encourage and inspire you a little:
- Remember your “why” – when the pressure is on it helps to be clear on why you’re doing the job in the first place. It helps to keep us and our practice on track. It can motivate when we’re tired and pull us back from losing our cool when things get heated. It’s all about the kids – remember that.
- Patience, patience, patience – it takes a long time to really mess up a young person’s life. When kids enter the LAC system it’s easy to forget this. When their behaviour seems entrenched and reluctant to change, patience is a great virtue. There is no quick fix, you hanging in there is exactly what they need.
- Read, read, read – be the best version of yourself by adding to your knowledge. Once we stop learning we limit the help we can provide. Reading is a great way of adding to the learning we do on-the-job. A good place to start is understanding attachment… Those who read learn; those who learn read. Go for it!
- Sometimes safety is good enough – safety is a premium benefit of residential care for troubled children. The lack of safety is often why they are in care in the first place. When other things aren’t falling into place, remember that striving to provide safety is great in itself. It may have been a bad shift – but keeping kids safe is good enough – well done!
- Every interaction is an intervention – for children in care, the presence of stable, safe and consistently caring adults is precious. Each conversation, each moment spent listening, each small act of care or kindness, each silent minute sat side-by-side watching telly together is an intervention. Good to know, eh?! (more on this in a future post)
- Avoid finger-wagging – when infants cry, we gather them up, find what’s wrong and put it right. In this way we regulate their emotions with them – “co-regulation.” Teenagers need this too – someone to get into the feelings with them and help them regulate. Empathise a lot. Empathise always. Empathise rather than wagging your fingers.
- Talk whilst you do – talking is the great healer and the great relationship builder. Make it easy on yourself and on the kids by deliberately using time spent doing other things as an opportunity to talk as well. Driving, cooking, walking, cleaning, decorating, gardening, washing up, etc. can all make for great conversations.
- Read the file – all of it. There’s no excuse not to. And when you know the background it helps you to care and intervene intelligently. Letting kids know that we’ve read the file can help them know where they stand, because they know what you know. Then, when the time’s right, you can ask them for their thoughts and feelings…
- Don’t take responsibility – I’m not advocating irresponsibility here. Not at all. But I am saying we have to let ourselves off the hook. You didn’t damage this young person and you can’t “fix” them. So guard against the temptation to carry that responsibility. It’ll crush you and it’s not yours to carry! Just do your best.
- Look after number 1 – none of us can do an optimum job of helping others if we’re neglectful of our own needs. Getting enough sleep, exercise and relaxation are key if we’re to keep going. Kids benefit when we care for ourselves! So if you want to be effective at helping the kids, make sure you also look after number 1 – you!
As I said, this stuff may not be new. But hopefully it will be a useful reminder of some things that can help you hold your nerve, maintain your stamina and keep going with the really valuable work that you do!
Whatever the outcomes are from the Government’s upcoming Narey review of children’s residential care, it remains a crucial part of the provision for kids who can’t live at home.
Those who work in it are tremendously committed and deserve our respect.
The next step…
Ressy care is a tough call, so taking better care of yourself is key. To help you I’ve written a short e-Book: Looking After No.1 – Self-Care for People Working with Troubled Children…
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What do you think?…
- What’s your top tip for working in ressy care?
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© Jonny Matthew 2015