RESuLT Development Blog - Cath Connolly - 02/11/2015

Cath Connolly is a Systemic Psychotherapist with 25 years' experience of practice in various roles in the Children's and NHS sectors, including extensive clinical and teaching experience. Cath is based in the National Implementation Service and has worked for The South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust for 16 years.

In this article, she discusses some of the challenges and rewards of developing a training programme for the residential childcare sector and gathering the evidence of what works. RESuLT is being independently evaluated by The University of Bristol, Loughborough University and Ipsos MORI with funding from the Department for Education’s ‘Innovation Programme’. 

There is an emerging evidence base[1] for what works with young people who live in children's homes. It’s still early days in terms of gathering this evidence. I have been immersed in the training needs of the residential childcare sector for much of the past four years. The focus of the work has been to put together training that draws from the evidence base for what works with children who are looked after and to grow that evidence. The content includes teaching on social learning theory[2] and neuroscience[3]. One of the tasks of RESuLT is to contribute to the body of evidence about what works in children’s homes and on the training needs of children’s home staff.

The challenge has been to develop training that people would turn up to, enjoy and which would have some positive effect on practice. One of the biggest hurdles has been identifying just what training effect could be expected. How does success get measured?[4] Change in staff team functioning, individual staff team members, and defined outcomes for young people?

The following would be on my wish-list for successful outcomes from this training:

  • Young people who live in children's homes to want to spend time at their children’s home.
  • Young people who live in children’s homes to be able to make good choices for themselves and to have interests, learning and relationships that are meaningful to them and good for them.
  • Residential Childcare Workers (RCCWs) to be reminded just what essential work they do and to be able to apply theory to their practice.
  • RCCWs to be motivated in their work individually and as a team.
  • RCCWs to use the best available evidence in their practice and collect data to help to grow the evidence base.
  • Building training capability and capacity in the sector in evidence based practice.

Translating these wishes into measurable variables has been quite the task.

So far, facilitators from CAMHS and the children's sector have been trained to deliver the programme around the country. More than 200 RCCWs have received the training, with upwards of another 200 RCCWs expected over the next six months. While many of the RCCW participants relished the chance of ten weeks of training, some others were anxious and some were irritable.  One RCCW described a previous training that the team had as being 'dull, turgid and irrelevant'. The challenge was set! RESuLT had to be different. Many RCCWS were understandably cautious about advice given from 'outsiders' that they had to put into practice all day, every day. We tried to avoid teaching them 'to suck eggs', while also valuing that there is new learning to be had.

One of the nicest things about RESuLT is that it truly has been developed in collaboration with the sector. All of the people trained have given detailed feedback throughout the development process. For example, when the supervision training wasn't quite right, a quick meeting with sector partners was arranged for revisions.

There are wonderful moments in the training when people build on their skills and knowledge and start thinking about their young people and how they are interacting differently with them. The penny drops that offering consistent care doesn't require everyone to be exactly the same, but to have some shared agreements that are followed through every time. RCCWs are reminded that everything they do at work is a 'potential intervention'. In the training they practice 'modelling' kindness and compassion. Reports are that the young people notice the changes in the adult's interactions and initially find them both puzzling and hilarious! There have been some comments from young people of, 'Why you all being so nice to each other?' In time, it catches on.

The RCCWs appreciate that brain development in response to experience both in the early years and during adolescence affects how young people think, feel and behave. They immediately connect this learning to their practice.

A key task in the development of RESuLT was to bring everyone along with accessible and engaging training materials and methods. Early on, I decided that there needed to be some reading literature in the training. I had not envisaged just how limited the available literature was for the residential child care sector. I say in the facilitators training that, 'there are more books written about how to conceive a child than about how to bring up a group of unrelated children with complex needs in a group environment!'

The training does require self-reflection. When asking people to reflect on their own personal experience of learning through observation as children and young people, the RCCWs recall their experience of being a child. A number of them have experienced living in children's homes or away from their birth families. Their observations of change in the sector over the decades have been invaluable.

Each week, there is some home practice and as the weeks go by people are able to describe more examples of how they have used social learning theory in their work. One of the things they value is having a credible language to describe their practice. Team members talk about the change in atmosphere in their homes. A more upbeat 'can do' attitude is reported.

One of the core aims of RESuLT is to shake the potential risk of institutionalisation in children's homes. This is not unique to this sector - it can happen in mental health services and in all settings where people are charged with 'helping' other people. Providing individualised child focused care for young people in group settings requires careful thought, planning and ongoing learning. Like others, we are committed to ensuring that the young people who are living in children's homes in the UK get access to the best available thinking and practice to promote their growth and development.

For more information about the Evidence Based Interventions for Children Looked After or on the Edge of Care or Custody programmes, visitwww.evidencebasedinterventions.org.uk.

For more information about the implementation of RESuLT in the UK, contact Cath Connolly at Cath.Connolly@slam.nhs.uk or on 0203 228 3908.

Research in Practice is currently developing a learning support package for the residential child care sector. For further information, please contact Vicki Giles, Research and Development Officer at vicki.giles@rip.org.uk or on 01803 847294.


[1] Hart D, La Valle I and Holmes L (2015) The place of residential care in the English child welfare system: Research report.University of East London and Loughborough University: Department for Education

[2] Bandura A (1977) Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall

[3] Blakemore Dr S-J (2007) The Social Brain of a Teenager. In: The Psychologist, Volume 20 (10), p 600-602

[4] Wilkinson K, Pike L and Halliday J (2013) Evaluating Training Impact. Research in Practice

 

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