Every Child Matters : A Personal Reflection

The publication of the 100th edition of the Webmag gives special cause for celebration and congratulation to those who have worked so hard to produce it. For those involved in the care and education of children and young people, it has become a fixed point of reference in the landscape. Over the hundred editions, it has not only kept practitioners up-to-date and dispensed a wide variety of ideas but has become a key source of informed comment.It is, therefore, with some trepidation that the present author attempts this appraisal based upon his own experiences of working with staff and running training courses in a variety of residential settings for children and young people over the past five years.*

The Green Paper, Every Child Matters (2003), has become perhaps the most significant milestone along the route which was initiated by the Children Act 1989. The most commonly encountered component of the paper has been the five outcomes, which became better known as the strategic national objectives for children and young people. These influence most aspects of care and education from assessments and inspections to the construction of care plans and budgets. Less well known because they do not impinge immediately upon practice but of equal relevance since they indicate guidelines for government action were the four Green Paper proposals:

  • supporting parents and carers;
  • early intervention and effective protection;
  • accountability and integration; and
  • workforce reform.

From his own experiences, working at the grass roots of the system, the author will describe examples of practice which indicate progress in these four areas.

Supporting parents and carers

During discussions in NVQ training it has been demonstrated how partnership with parents and those with parental responsibility has become a reality. In boarding schools, too, parents have become increasingly involved. At one children’s home which specialises in short-term care for young people with complex problems, there is now a full out-reach programme. Some staff spend as much time with the families in their homes as they do with the young people. In two respite care settings for children with extreme sensory and physical difficulties, work with parents is a key element of the therapy. The handover at the beginning and end of each period of residence is a teaching and learning experience for both staff and parents. In a rapidly expanding private initiative, multi-disciplinary teams have been developed to work with children primarily in their home settings. The team members represent the range of care and education which would be encountered in residential special schools. The parents can obtain the benefits of a variety of residential settings while the young person lives mainly at home.

In a different context, work over the past five years with staff at St Peter’s School York, an independent boarding school, has resulted in the implementation of an extremely effective anti-bullying programme. The programme was demonstrated and discussed at the last York Group meeting. It is significant in the current context in that it involves parents at an early stage. They become part of the process and the result has been the establishment of a “listening and telling” culture and the young people consider any bullying to be both deviant and reprehensible. The author spent evenings discussing the subject with boarders of all ages and has witnessed the effectiveness of the programme in the enlightened attitudes of the young people.

At a secure training centre and a young offender institution, with strong support from the staff, a programme was developed to address the key issue of how assessments of the personal and social development of the young people inside the establishment can be continued in the community outside. The problem is particularly acute in the case of short Detention and Training Orders. It is essential that staff inside and those working with the young people outside use the same procedures so that there is seamless transition from one to the other as the young people leave custody.

Early intervention and effective protection

Early intervention is a crucial aspect of the programme at St Peter’s School. Reports on relatively minor or “green card” offences are passed on by the victim or more appropriately a witness, to specific more senior pupils, trained as mentors. Repeated or more serious offences at the “yellow card” level involve reports from the mentor to particular members of staff. “Red cards” offences are usually reported directly to staff. The result is that “green card” offences, by far the bulk of problems, can be discussed by the mentor with the victim and the perpetrator at a relatively low level and reparation can be agreed. This approach eliminates long running feuds and, in most cases, restores a reasonable relationship between the victim and the perpetrator.

The point is, the offence is noticed and dealt with rapidly. It is a restorative rather than a punitive procedure and, as a result, the anti-bullying programme has gradually produced a restorative culture in which the perpetrator is punished but also supported and the focus is upon the event rather than the person. In St Peter’s School, the process was introduced and developed through workshops, initially with the boarding and academic staff. Subsequently, there have been workshops for all members of staff: administrative, domestic, grounds and catering.

It is axiomatic that, through early intervention, significant reductions can be made in the number of young people taken into custodial care. If the early signs of conflict, usually words, signs or minor actions, go unaddressed, the situation can deteriorate rapidly so that serious crimes are committed. Early intervention should reduce the number of young people going on to the next stage of their criminal development and thereby narrow the pyramid, reducing the number who need to be incarcerated and bringing the UK into line with most of the other countries in Europe.

The restorative justice approach has been introduced to a number of children’s homes and other residential settings. In one, a boy had stolen some goods from a local store in a town in which there was a policy of zero tolerance for such offences. The home persuaded the shopkeeper with his family to meet the perpetrator and discuss the issue. After what turned out to be a very emotional encounter, there was far greater understanding between the two sides. The main result was that the perpetrator felt sufficiently strongly about shoplifting that he not only desisted himself but he actively discouraged his friends from indulging.

The importance of early intervention can also be demonstrated in more general terms by the therapeutic approach in local authority secure units compared with the punitive procedure generally adopted in the other types of custodial setting for young people. As far as it can be measured, the success rate is considerably higher than that achieved in other forms of custodial care. Research is continuing but the initial indications are that early intervention and restorative practice is very effective in reducing recidivism. The next York Group meeting will be on 20 June 2008 and will focus on restorative practice.

Accountability and integration

Integration, particularly between education and social care, has been apparent for far more than five years. The York Group was established in 1989 by the author to bring together practitioners, academics and administrators from across the field of residential and boarding care and education.

Research, supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, into the requirements for courses for staff working in residential and boarding education and care was carried out across all nineteen sectors of residence for children and young people. It had been assumed that there would be a series of parallel courses with common units on subjects such as child protection but the research indicated clearly that all sectors required the same basic coverage. The NVQ training which resulted from the research has been used for staff from children’s homes, residential special schools, custodial care and health settings together with boarding schools and preparatory schools.

More compelling has been the personal and social development monitoring procedure produced originally in a small residential school for children with special educational needs. The same procedure has been used and developed in boarding schools, further education establishments, psychiatric units, therapeutic communities and children’s homes.

A specific example of integration is provided by the manager of one of the children’s homes. He not only manages the children’s home but acts as child protection officer in the school which the young people attend. He thereby brings the skills of social management to an educational setting and ensures that educational requirements are met in his home. His position provides a good example of the developing role of the social pedagogue, a subject highlighted in the knowledge requirements for the NVQ4 in Health and Social Care and the Managers in Residential Child Care Awards.

The role of social pedagogue is part of ongoing research and has been included in presentations by the author at the BAAF Annual Conference and seminars of the Thomas Coram Research Unit and to the Fellows at Dartington.

Workforce Reform

The emergence of the social pedagogue in the UK is a crucial focus of workforce reform. Common assessments and their interpretation require practitioners to have an increasingly broad knowledge across health, social care and education. These three components are all part of the NVQ programmes currently being delivered to staff across residential care and education.

The importance of such training is increasingly being realised in more far-sighted boarding schools and junior boarding staff at St Peter’s School are taking an NVQ3 course. It is intended that more senior staff will take the NVQ4 and Managers in Residential Child Care in classes which will include representation from other categories of residential establishment for young people in the York area. St Peter’s is almost certainly the first boarding school to offer NVQ training to all its staff. For those who wish it, from the ancillary staff, an NVQ2 programme will begin in the autumn.

For staff with degrees who do not wish to take an NVQ, there is a two-year Masters Degree course at York St John University, delivered predominantly by distance learning, in which residential and boarding care and education is being offered as the speciality. With the residential requirement of only two long weekends in York, this is an ideal course for boarding staff. It can also be of significance for those in the various social care settings.

At present, post-qualifying training set out by the General Social Care Council offers five different areas of practice, but does not include residential care and boarding. The York St John course fulfils the needs of those who wish to progress further in the fields of residential social care and education for young people. Already applications have been received from several managers of children’s homes and directors of boarding in secondary and preparatory schools.

Though the examples given all relate to the personal experience of the author over the past five years, there is a sufficiently broad coverage of settings to indicate that real progress is being made in the areas of the four proposals set out in Every Child Matters (2003).

Any reader who is interested in any of the above should contact Professor Ewan Anderson at:

3 St Paul’s Mews, York YO24 4BR Tel: 01904 670 152

Email: [email protected]

* Professor Anderson has worked in and run staff courses, including NVQ3, NVQ4 and Managers in Residential Child Care, for boarding schools, children’s homes, residential special schools (local authority and private sector), preparatory schools, a secure training centre and a local authority secure unit.

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