Q+A with a carer in a children's home
Sarah Kean-Price talks to a carer in a children’s home about their first 3 weeks in a their new job. She finds that two days are never the same and the desire to work with the homeless has been a driving force from an early age.
26th November 2012
1. Tell me a bit about your job at the moment
I'm working in a very small children's home. It's a therapeutic community so its run in a way where it aims to be more like a 'family home' I guess. So it's not like a children's home where it's quite institutionalised. Everyone helps with the cooking and cleaning etc.
The kids have fairly normal rules and routines where they take turns to wash and dry, they can have mates round, they can go out etc. They go to bed at ten on a school night and later at the weekends. My job is pretty much to help with all this. So I'm an adult in the house and I take the kids to activities like ice skating, trampolining, rock climbing etc (I've done more exercise than ever in my life since I started).
There's paperwork too obviously but the kids always come first. We don't talk about shifts or work and we don't do paperwork in front of the kids because it's all aimed around making it a home, not an institution.
When I first started I found it extremely weird because my last job was so hectic and I felt like I wasn't doing any work. It was in fact that the first priority was to get to know the kids so they were comfortable with having me in their house.
So while I was worrying about the fact I'd not been given any 'work' and thinking people would think I was rubbish because I'd spent my shift making cakes and watching TV with the kids, that was exactly what I was meant to be doing.
2. How did your life lead up to working in this area?
I started working in homeless services and I'm not sure why but I'd always wanted to. It wasn't some epiphany or anything, just like when other children said they wanted to be a doctor or teacher I said I wanted to work with homeless people.
Obviously that was my start in 'care work' and working with children is quite different. It was a bit of an accident really. My contract wasn't renewed in the hostel and I was looking for a job. My landlady at the time said she owned a children's home and asked me to apply. I'd never thought of working with kids and took quite a lot of convincing (it made a huge difference once I found out it was 12 to 18. I could never work with small children!). I got the job and now I love it.
3. Why did you decide to work in this area?
Like I said, it was a bit of an accident really. When I moved away from homeless services I was unsure about it but convinced myself by saying it was helping people before they got to the point where they lived in a hostel. Lots of the residents of the hostel where I worked had been in care and that was what helped me.
I think I wanted to work with homeless adults because I always thought they were a bit of a forgotten-about group. Lots of people want to work with children and animals but people forget that adults need help too sometimes. People are often quite horrible about people on benefits or on drugs or living on the streets and act like they just don't want a job etc. That always makes me quite angry and I suppose I wanted to help.
4. What's an average shift like?
There's not really any such thing as an average shift. Some days it's quiet and if it's horrible weather on a weekend I'll literally spend my shift sat on the sofa in my pajamas watching films and eating popcorn with the kids. Other days I'll be running down the street after a child who has run away and my day will be entirely made up of incredibly stressful situations.
5. You've been working in this job for about 3 weeks now; How are you settling in?
I think I settled in almost immediately. My colleagues are all lovely and treat me like I'd been there ages straight away. I think one of the things about working in a caring environment is that you tend to be there with nice people.
6. Is there anything about this work that surprises you?
Sometimes outside agencies surprise me. Not in a good way. There are times where you just think 'how on earth can they think that was the right thing to do?!?!?!'. Schools that send through what is obviously an hour’s worth of work and say it will last a fortnight. I realise it's a lot of effort but if a child has been excluded they do still need to be learning.
The police surprise me a lot. In both good and bad ways. Some officers are so amazing and really go the extra mile to help vulnerable people, on the other side you get officers who make you entirely understand certain peoples hatred of the police. I recently had an officer come to the house basically to ask me why I had called them and why he should bother looking for a vulnerable person.
7. What's the best part of your job?
The days where the kids make you proud of them. When someone has been consistently making bad decisions and suddenly it seems to click and they do the right thing.
8. What's the worst part of your job?
The stress. Also cuts to services and their effects. When you're the only place that will house a child and you're given no information on their needs. When a child is stuck with you as an emergency placement and it's so obviously not an appropriate place for them. When you know what someone needs but there's no money to get them it. The fact that you know some things which need to happen never will because of money.
Also the fact that I have to have restraint training. I've only restrained a child once, it was the worst thing I've ever done and I don't ever want to do it again.
9. If there's anything about your care career that you could have done differently, what would you have done?
I've got no idea.
10. What advice about working in the care industry would you give to your younger self?
Ask for more money. People will try and pay you nothing because you're young.
11. How do you hope to progress in your care career?
I hope to get more experience so I'm better at what I do. Other than that, I don't really know.
12. Do you think a qualification in this area would improve your practice? Or, alternatively, do you think on-the-job experience has been more valuable?
I don't have any care qualifications so can't really comment on if it would have been better or worse for me. I think the fact that I wasn't straight out of a social work degree when I started was appreciated. I used to help run an alcohol support group and the members always said they didn't like it when you got young people with not much life experience trying to help them with theories straight out of a book. It was quite amusing they said this to me as I was only 20 when I started.