Readers who have stayed with the Webmag over the years will have read of Gus’s earlier career in residential child care, as he worked his way up the ladder to run his own home. He also wrote the column of the goings on at Bluebrick Children’s Home. Now, he is contributing an occasional column on his work as an inspector.
“Who are you anyway?” asked a resentful looking young person at 19 Nelson Way, a voluntary agency children’s home for six residents in the Borough of Skyward.
“I’m Gus, .. Gus Greene, your Regulation 33 visitor”, I responded.
“A what?” frowned Larry.
“An inspector”, chimed in Jane, a residential carer, trying to demystify me.
“No – not really”, I began, but Larry had quickly accepted Jane’s explanation.
“Oh yer – well then, why can’t I have more pocket money?”
No wonder Larry was puzzled and Jane unsure about what I was really doing in their home, for the title ‘Regulation 33 Visitor’ was surely something dreamed up on a tedious day by a civil servant drafting child care legislation.
The term is taken from The Children’s Homes Regulation 2001, which were attached to the updated Standards for Children’s Homes 2002 in compliance with the Care Standards Act 2000.
In the previous 1989 Children Act, this duty had been known as Regulation 22. (I don’t think the higher number was intended to be promotion or demotion but just resulted from a number of additional regulations being devised by the time the year 2001 had been reached).
Regulation 33 states that each agency providing a children’s home shall be visited by someone appointed by the provider who is not directly concerned with the conduct or management of the home. It goes on to state that the visit shall take place at least once a month and may be unannounced. It then describes the duties as follows:
“The person carrying out the visit shall –
- interview, with their consent and in private, such of the children accommodated there, their parents, relatives and persons working at the home as appears necessary in order to form an opinion of the standard of care provided in the home;
- inspect the premises of the children’s home, its daily log of events and records of any complaints; and
- prepare a written report on the conduct of the home.”
Six Years’ Experience
I have been doing these visits for a number of agencies for over six years and thought it might be helpful if I shared some of my experiences, (anonymously of course: no person or place is given its true name in this account).
Except in very particular circumstances, my visits are always unannounced and take place at varied times. The result is that I never know what to expect when I arrive. On one occasion I arrived at the children’s home to find a member of staff and two young people standing outside the open front door of the children’s home. Maye, the member of staff, recognised me from my previous visits.
“Gus”, she said, “you don’t want to go in there, all hell has broken loose”.
Well, I had travelled some distance to make this visit and I knew a bit about troublesome behaviour, so, taking my courage in my hands, I strode purposefully along the corridor to the office.
As I got nearer I could hear a loud drilling noise coming from the office, not the noise I had expected. I tapped loudly on the door and went in to find a man drilling a hole in the wall in preparation for some wall mountings. One person’s hell is another’s sigh of relief!
On another occasion I was greeted on my arrival by two female young people with a blown up condom and much giggling and excitement. I was asked if I would like one, followed by more giggles. (It seems they had picked up the items while in the home’s office following a recent visit by a health visitor). I found it rather amusing but did not convey this to the young people. In fact I just said, “No thanks” and walked on to the office to greet staff.
Whatever my title, I know that I am sometimes not the most welcome of visitors, as the staff may have more pressing matters to deal with than someone asking to view records and to chat to them and to the young people.
If there were something really serious in process I would of course say that I can see you have pressing matters to deal with and call another time, but in all my many visits I have never found it necessary to do this.
Occasionally a young person is angry at my visit, especially in a home which is short stay and the young person may have no idea who I am.
I went into a lounge where a young female resident was sitting on a settee.
“Who are you?” she demanded and then, before I could explain, she added, “Get out of my house. Go!”. I didn’t go but I did decide that it was clearly not a good time to press on with any further conversation and left her sitting on the settee.
Standard Good Practice
Her attitude was understandable to a degree, as, although it is said to be the children’s home, there are a considerable number of visitors who would not be seen in an ordinary household. So I do try to be sensitive to the fact that I am visiting the children’s home. I certainly knock on any closed doors I wish to enter and I never go into a young person’s room without their agreement.
I also endeavour not to linger unnecessarily. Even during the day time, when young people are supposedly at school, there are usually one or two residents at home for a review or some other valid reason, as well as those excluded from school or the self-excluded young person. Staff just don’t usually have lots of time on their hands to chat.
So I make a quick decision on the feel of the atmosphere and unless there is any sign of likely drama, I sign in, check which staff are on duty and how many young people are actually in the building and where they are likely to be.
I then ask for all the relevant record books; log, unauthorised absence, incidents, restraints, sanctions, complaints, medication, fire log and health and safety checks record and find a quiet corner to peruse them and note what they contain since my last visit.
I think it useful for the agencies that I am the one and only Reg. 33 visitor to the projects. In some agencies the visiting is done by trustees or a number of different visitors which means that these visitors need to have the reports of previous visits both for continuity and to calculate the time since the last visit.
There are of course arguments for and against both systems. The regular visitor can become too cosy and complacent but the occasional visitor can fail to spot significant changes in approach or atmosphere.
Once I have noted the contents of the records I consider I am in a good position to judge how the home has been functioning recently and with this in mind I walk around and talk to staff and young people, (I never ‘interview’ them, as the Regulations term it).
I try to pick up their feelings of how things are for them and the home. If there are major concerns I contact the agency HQ to pass them on, but usually there are no matters that urgent and so I simply include all I have noted in my later report to the management, a copy of which goes also to the home manager and to the Commission for Social Care Inspection.
I usually enjoy my visits and hope most staff, residents and providers do so also. I do also gain some valuable insights into practice in general and it is this that I plan to share with you from time to time over the coming months.
Until my next unannounced visit, I will say farewell!