Putting relationships before processes. By Ros Denby

How residential care homes are making a change

From a blog on the Research In Practice website.
30 JUNE 2016

Image: Ros Denby, Sandcastle Care
Ros Denby

Our children deserve to be cared for in communities where they are the life and soul of the home in which they live. Residential childcare can be a therapeutic experience, a positive and proactive choice and a healing, nurturing process.

Here at Sandcastle Care, we have set this vision as our goal. This doesn’t happen overnight. It’s in development – we are on our way and that’s all I can say at the moment.

Therapeutic care is entrenched in the discussions I consistently have with the team of people who spend time in our homes and I believe that it starts here in Sandcastle Care as an organisation. It is at the very core of who we are and it is a serious challenge sometimes. A challenge which on my most optimistic days I can view positively and on other days, doesn’t feel quite so easy to move towards.

The pathway to relationship-based childcare is a journey, but it can be fraught with difficulty. The main challenges come from the perception of process. How processes are used or approached, how it can act as a barrier to developing relationships and allowing relationship-based childcare to be at the forefront when looking after children and young people in a residential setting.

How do we support communities of care to grow and be brave and genuinely caring, when for too long residential care workers have felt undervalued and almost vilified, in a sector where few outside the sector fully understand the difficulty of caring for children in care homes and whose main benchmarking has been a very efficient regulatory body who places emphasis on following processes and procedures rather than attempting to measure the quality of relationships developed and personal impact? How do we achieve this in a wider culture of political hostility that focuses on keeping safe from allegations and avoiding disciplinary action, rather than recognising and valuing when relationships are positive, upbeat and have a healing effect?

Despite these issues, far from allowing them to thwart us or dampen our spirits, we are determined to forge a way forward that demonstrates to children in our homes that they can rely on us to be brave and bold, advocate for them, while showing true compassion and understanding.

In other words, we will try hard to allow everyone who works for Sandcastle Care to place relationships before process.

We are still aware of the need for structure and process when looking after young people of course, to ensure consistent and quality care. The issue will be about getting the balance right, so that the process doesn’t become the only thing and that relationships can take centre-stage, that young people are human beings and not commodities.

Time will tell whether this is 100% possible 100% of the time. If and when we can hold our heads high and be able to really show that we have shifted our thinking to one which embodies a relationship-based approach across all of our homes, I know that we will still need to evidence progress, show effectiveness and follow the regulations in all their glory. It remains to be seen whether both of these things can be possible at once.

Fortunately, the Quality Standards to which we work feel like a massive improvement and there now seems to be a marked political will to help young people to live and grow in homes where they are cared for, nurtured and valued.

With the changes we are making and a shift in attitudes, I feel hopeful for the future of residential care, despite the fact that this is a sector which has history, not all of it positive.

What I know for sure is that we are doing our best to look after our children and give them a home which they can call theirs and which belongs to each and every one of them. A home in an area where they are safe and a home which feels like a family environment, perhaps not in the purest sense of that word, but in a way that people who live and work there genuinely care about each other with all of their perfect imperfections and consistent inconsistencies.

About the author

Ros Denby is CEO of Sandcastle Care, a residential childcare provider based in the North which is developing its own approach to therapeutic residential childcare based on Integrative Person Centred Psychotherapeutic principles.