My few years working in secure residential child care was probably the steepest learning curve of my career to date.
It is a unique hot-house of challenge and delights.

So how can we do it better?

There are lessons here for everybody…
In no other work setting have I experienced such challenges as those in secure children’s care. It really is a hot house!
Because of this it can be hard to think things through, to reflect and to improve your own practice. At least that’s what I found.

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Looking back now (isn’t hindsight brilliant?!) I can see some of the things I did right and lot that I didn’t.  So I thought I’d share some of them with you…

10 practice tips for secure care workers…

Here are a few thoughts on keeping your practice sharp that I took away from my time in secure:

– Have a clear model that drives practice – dealing with the daily challenges of secure care means there’s a real need for a clear vision. Without it, staff and kids lack a sense of clarity about the basis on which the place works. With it, there’s a common understanding, language and set of principles driving practice. People know where they stand and what’s expected of them. Our Trauma Recovery Model was developed out of our previous work in a secure children’s home -click the pic below to learn more…

– Leave the building regularly – the nature of secure settings means you can easily feel closed in. Even if you’re not conscious of it, getting out at some point each day – even for 5 minutes – changes your perspective. It’ll freshen your emotions, invigorate your senses and take the edge off that sense of claustrophobia that can keep creep in without you knowing.

– Keep to your usual sleep routine – sleeping at work is tricky. It messes with your body clock and upsets the rhythm that most people take from granted. Just like dealing with jet-lag, keeping to your normal sleep routine when you get back home will help re-orientate things more quickly. Resist the temptation to stay up or sleep late when you’ve been sleeping at work.

– Build in a work-to-home transition window – leaving work at work and being available to your family when you get home is quite a challenge. The days are so busy and demanding that you arrive home with your head full. Having a short break between work and home can allow you to dump the day and be more ready for family when you get home.

– Read, read, read… – if you don’t read you’re probably not improving in your practice. It’s that simple. In order to be the best version of yourself you’ll need to expand your knowledge. Reading is the cheapest, easiest and arguably the best way to do this.

Subscribe & get my FREE e-book: “Connecting With Troubled Young People” – click here…

– Capture the good stuff (encouragement) – ressy work is hard work. All the more so in a secure setting. Because of this it’s really important to capture and celebrate the good stuff that happens. Develop some ways that you can do this, so you have a stock of encouragement to draw on when things get tough. There’re some ideas on how to do this here.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/Iserg

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/Iserg

– Leave the building regularly – ditto. I can’t emphasise this enough. The psychological benefits of getting outside during the day – even for a few minutes – are huge.

– Reflect – the virtues of reflective practice are well documented. The rush and demands of working in secure mean you probably won’t be able to do this at work. Use your work-to-home transition window to think back over the day. Put the mistakes down to experience and learn from them. Celebrate the wins, no matter how small they may be!

– Take a day off after an serious incident – always, or go home straight after it. If the culture at work is a macho one, try to resist it; it doesn’t serve you or the kids to deny the very real impact of difficult episodes or incidents. Deal with it properly and you’ll bounce back stronger!

– Lobby to get on external training – Training is essential, not least to keep up your registration. But so much of the training for secure staff is in-house. This is fine. But not all the time. Just as getting out of the building can really help, so can attending training outside of the establishment. It freshens your perspective and widens your thinking. Both of which add value when you go back to work.

I realise that a lot of these things may seem obvious. But how many of them do you actually do? Regularly? Not many, if my own experience is anything to go by.

Take a little time to review your working practices and consider where you can tweak to incorporate some of these – or other – practice changes.

Remember, making big changes is hard. Making small ones is not only easier, it’s really encouraging and gives us energy to keep going and to make further changes too.
Go for it!

Final word…

The children’s secure care sector is facing big changes. Not least because the YJB is cutting back on youth justice beds, but also because those same children are still being admitted but via the welfare route – with all the vagaries of the family Court to boot!

But one thing is sure – there will always be a place for secure provision.
The key thing for maintaining good practice is for each individual worker to be the best version of themselves. I hope these few tips will help to that end!

This might help!

For more information, encouragement and practical tips on looking after yourself better – check out my eBook.

“Looking After No.1 – Self-Care for People Working with Troubled Children.”

It’s only £2.97 and is available for instant download on Amazon.

Here’s a review from a former Children’s Commissioner to whet your appetite:

Sometimes we overlook our own well-being when we are immersed in working with children to improve their lives… The strength of this book is the way in which Jonny links in his own experience with an openness and honesty that gives his ideas and tips an authenticity that resonates strongly and leaves you reflecting on your own experience. If you ever wondered what good supervision should be all about this book will help you. And if you are working with children and young people in a professional capacity this quick read will leave you with much to think on as you develop your own practice whilst remembering to protect your physical and mental well-being. It’s a top read from a top practitioner.”

Keith Towler – former Children’s Commissioner for Wales

Learn more about Looking After No.1 – click here…

What do you think?…

– What are your practice tips on working in secure care?

– Please let me know your thoughts…   Leave a comment below or click here.

Related previous posts:

– Why secure care can work…for some

– Residential child care – 10 tips to help & encourage…

– Custody for kids: good & bad. Part 1…

– Custody for kids: good & bad. Part 2…

– Child first, offender second…

– How to read when you’re busy – part 1…

– How to read when you’re busy – part 2…

– Troubled youth: re-writing the ending…

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© Jonny Matthew 2016

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