residential children’s home worker who grew up in care talks about how
regulation for children’s home workers can’t come without better
by Jack Brookes writing in Community Care, June 7th 2018
The independent inquiry into child sexual abuse has recommended children’s home staff should have professional registration.
This is almost certainly a good idea and hard to argue with.
Unfortunately, it is also close to a dictionary definition of “putting
the cart before the horse”.
Staff who work in residential children’s homes are not professionals
by any reasonable meaning of that word. The vast majority do not have a
professional level of training, knowledge or expertise, nor are we paid
anything close to a professional level – making it very hard to recruit
enough people of the right calibre.
There are many good reasons why residential care is a better option
than foster care for some looked after children – not least because many
children find being with a substitute family too painful. However,
let’s not deny reality, most young people in children’s homes are there
because they have experienced multiple foster homes already or because
of the risk they pose to themselves.
Looking after them properly, helping them to recover from the trauma
of their early years and, sometimes, the further trauma caused by
experiences in the care system, requires specialist know-how,
understanding and skill. These are young people who often come with an
array of attachment and mental health issues and this can lead to
behaviour which can be very difficult to manage.
Without an understanding of why they are behaving in the way that
they do, you can very quickly feel like a person standing in a room
being abused for no reason – it can sometimes feel like that even when
you have had plenty of training. Staff turnover is, unsurprisingly, high
and this causes further relationship ruptures for the young people and
So, how much training is required before you start your first day in a
children’s home? Zero. Oh? So, I guess you would need at least some
kind of relevant experience? Nope. It is quite possible to leave your
job in accounts one day and be looking after some of the most troubled
and vulnerable children in society the next day.
Care jobs, of any kind, are considered unskilled work. The best you
can usually hope for is a candidate with experience of another type of
care work – as if the skills are transferable across the sector. This is
nonsense – I have worked in residential children’s homes for 15 years –
I would not have a clue what I was doing with, say, adults with
When I first worked in a children’s home we had to undertake an NVQ, I
started mine after a year and learned nothing. It was simply a process
of writing down, in detail, what I already did and occasionally have
someone watch me do those things. The current requirement is for staff
to complete the QCF, this is hardly any better although it does have the
benefit of a child development module – I read it today as research for
this article. To call it cursory would be to exaggerate its value.
No one learns anything and it is seen as a chore – something to get
through – not something which inspires understanding or a desire to know
I have recently written a three-hour workshop for my employer on
developmental trauma. As protocol dictates, I delivered it to the care
managers first – none of them knew what it was. How can this possibly be
The inquiry’s report does state that the proposed professional body
should be responsible for “setting and maintaining standards or
training” but what does this really look like? Because what is required
is a “professional” level of study in a college or university with
actual taught input and first-hand experience gained via placements.
Of course, this would require a considerable commitment from people
who wished to do the job, and potentially the racking up of debt and
student loans, it would also require people with the ability and
capacity to complete this kind of training, it seems only reasonable
they are paid “professional” money afterwards. Naturally, it would make
sense for them to be student members of a professional body and full
members when qualified.
Now, being qualified to do something does not necessarily mean you
will be good at it. There are incompetent teachers, uncaring nurses and
rubbish plumbers. But if you were having plumbing work done to your
house, I bet you would not hire someone who had no qualifications or
experience, and I bet you would be willing to pay extra for someone who