External management of residential child care establishments: national guidance

Guidance for those with external management responsibilities for any residential child care establishment, including childrens homes, secure care and some residential schools.

3. The External Management Tasks

This section further explores existing practice in the context of the key responsibilities outlined in the 1997 guidance.

3.1 Monitoring the experiences of children

Sharing learning from the scoping study

One external manager for a large voluntary organisation emphasised the importance of meeting with all new residents as soon as possible to ensure they knew who he was and how the young person could contact him.

Another external manager working for a private provider noted that monitoring had to be separated from supervision of the 'person in charge' to ensure that monitoring was not overly reliant on the supervisory relationship. Other methods were required.

One external manager spoke of accessing reports and case notes on their IT database and felt this allowed them to enhance their oversight of care planning.

One of the organisations described a residential services monitoring group chaired by a senior manager which met quarterly, consisting of children's rights officers, complaints officers, advocacy groups and young people which considered any arising issues.

3.1.1 Regular and rigorous monitoring of the experiences of children and young people in residential settings are an essential role and responsibility of the external manager. In order for an external manager to have a full understanding of the operations of the home, it is crucial for her/him to have routine contact with the children and young people by visiting the home on a regular basis. External managers should be aware of the different shift patterns and visit accordingly to monitor children's experiences throughout the day and at different times of the year. We heard various views on how often external managers should visit from those involved in the scoping study. Actual practice ranged from daily visits (easier for those 'on campus') to four times a year. We would recommend that external managers will know how frequently they should visit and respond to differing needs of the 'person in charge' or services at times of crisis. We would suggest that external managers should agree this with individual services and in consultation with young people but ensure they visit at least once a month (and not always to supervise the 'person in charge').

3.1.2 The children and young people should know who the external manager is and how he/she can be contacted. The external manager should have extensive knowledge of the needs of children and young people placed in a residential setting.

3.1.3 The external manager should ensure effective feedback opportunities are established and adhered to for children, young people, families/carers and professionals to express their views. These should take into account the variety of communication needs. To support this process, the external manager should be supportive of the work of advocacy organisations. The external manager should be informed of all complaints and concerns raised by children and young people, families and professionals.

3.1.4 Monitoring experiences will also involve regular checks on record keeping, up-to-date care plans and inspection reports. The Care Inspectorate requests the attendance of the external manager and/or a member of the board of governors to the formal feedback session following inspection.

3.1.5 Monitoring the group living environment and cultures of practice are a key task of the external manager. This will include monitoring and acting upon patterns in reports of significant events, for example, absconding and physical restraint (See Holding Safely guidance (2005) for good practice).

3.1.6 External managers have a central role in 'gatekeeping' for residential child care services. The scoping study highlighted a variety of involvement in admissions policy. Positive reflections were shared when external managers were actively involved in admissions and the views of the 'person in charge' and the whole team were taken into account prior to a final decision. External managers must have an active involvement in admissions and transitions of children and young people. Consultation with the unit manager is key to good decision-making. An external manager must have knowledge of resource provision and what will best meet the needs of children and young people.

3.2 Ensuring that practice complies with legislation, regulations and national and local guidance

3.2.1 Residential child care staff can often feel quite remote and unaffected by national developments. It is imperative that front line staff in residential child care have access to training and briefing on new policy and procedures. Specifically 'Getting it Right for Every Child' requires local implementation with recognition that residential staff are an integral part of the team around the child.

3.2.2 Similar to the need for compliance is the need for congruence and the external manager must have an overview of services to ensure that their work is consistent with the organisational goals and objectives and is an integral part of children's services.

3.2.3 Consolidated experience of residential child care can help external managers fulfil their role. Regardless of experience, the external manager must maintain a good knowledge of relevant statutory frameworks effecting and influencing the delivery of residential child care. A good awareness of relevant statutory expectations will mean that external managers will be able to see non-compliance when he/she sees it in practice; hears of it in supervision and team meetings or reads about it in incident reports or complaints.

3.2.4 The monitoring role of the external manager must include an oversight on statutory compliance (even if most of the responsibility in this area appears to be delegated to the 'person in charge').

3.2.5 The external manager has a key role where allegations are made against staff (see SIRCC (2011) Allegations against residential workers: Guidance on how agencies should respond).

3.3 Supervising and supporting the 'person in charge'

Sharing learning from the scoping study

  • Regular supervision requires protected time and no interruptions.
  • Supervision is focused on the role and management of the 'person in charge'.
  • Supervision is not always held in the children's residential setting to enable critical distance.
  • Professional development is always an agenda item.
  • The person in charge has an opportunity to discuss opportunities and challenges.
  • Develop peer support meetings for 'persons in charge' across residential settings.
  • Supervision is a separate activity from monitoring children's experiences.
  • Informal supervision through regular contact is highly valued.

3.3.1 'Persons in charge' highly valued the informal support of external managers. Developing a good working relationship is essential to this role. Clear communication and recognition of boundaries should be set out to ensure all can effectively fulfil their role.

3.3.2 Ensuring the 'person in charge' is supervised effectively is a key responsibility of the external manager. In the majority of scenarios, supervision is conducted by the external manager, although this can depend on the line management structure of an organisation. External managers must be available to the 'person in charge' - either in person, by telephone or email contact.

3.3.3 As highlighted in the Kerelaw Inquiry (2009), it is an essential safeguarding role of the external manager in ensuring the 'person in charge' is working appropriately and receiving support. Organisational supervision procedures should be sufficiently flexible to respond to the challenging role of the 'person in charge'.

3.3.4Managing referrals and making decisions about placement beginnings and endings is a key responsibility of the external manager and also a potential source of strain in the relationship between the external manager and the 'person in charge'. Positive experiences appear to be characterised by a shared responsibility for placement decisions, a good knowledge of the service's strengths and a consideration of the needs of the other young people in the placement.

3.4 Ensuring that staff are familiar with their responsibilities and equipped, through training, to perform them

Sharing learning from the scoping study

  • All larger organisations had corporately designed supervision and appraisal systems - there was a recurring theme that these often needed some (unofficial) amendment or additional parts added in order that they were relevant to the role of the 'person in charge'.
  • One rural local authority developed group 'cultures of learning' within residential settings due to logistical challenges in attending further education. More experienced and senior staff were able to share reflective practice. This led to greater dialogue about practice within the residential settings and provided a rich resource valued by a wide range of staff.

3.4.1 The focus of the external manager must be the 'person in charge' and other senior staff. The 'person in charge' should have a current professional development plan and receive regular formal supervision. The external manager must also ensure that the 'person in charge' has these plans in place for all staff.

3.4.2 Experience and knowledge of residential child care will enable the external manager to have a clear understanding of the professional development needs of frontline staff. They will also have a commitment to ensuring the relevant development opportunities are available to all staff. This commitment will go beyond mandatory training to further the knowledge and skills which enable frontline staff to meet the needs of the children and young people they look after.

3.5 Ensuring that resources, including staffing, the building, furnishing and fittings are sufficient and suited to purpose

3.5.1 An external manager should have a comprehensive overview of the short-term and long-term needs of every residential child care provision. Regular financial updates are required and can be achieved through close working with the 'person in charge' and finance officer. Establishing a positive three-way relationship was considered by many to be key; this allowed delegation to the 'person in charge' to have budget responsibility. This was emphasised as particularly important in allowing flexibility for extra staffing.

3.5.2 Projecting and prioritising future expenditure is essential. Ensuring that there is corporate awareness of the actual financial costs of a residential provision is part of the role of an external manager.

3.5.3 In terms of maintenance of the building, respondents emphasised that a residential home needs to be more than just 'wind and water tight'. The external manager should have a vision for residential care that recognises the importance of providing a high-quality environment.

3.6 Identifying the need for and instigating any necessary changes

Sharing learning from the scoping study

  • Organisations with an agreed philosophy of care ( e.g. trauma informed, attachment promoting) evidenced a clear sense of direction for their individual services.
  • The role of leading change is largely delegated to the 'person in charge' and the leadership role of the 'person in charge' was inextricably linked to a trusting relationship with the external manager.
  • While priorities are identified by managers there is an increasing need to agree changes at an interagency level.
  • A shared understanding of purpose and a clear referral and admissions process, with external managers playing a key role in 'gate-keeping', can have a major effect on the need for change.

3.6.1 The external manager will have a strong sense of service development and the need for services to learn from and respond to current research, policy and legislation. Experience of residential care could help the manager in fulfilling this task, this experience can give the external manager credibility with the whole team.

3.6.2 The external manager should be promoting positive outcomes for all looked after children and young people in a residential setting. This requires an understanding of the individual child and also of the group.

3.6.3 The external manager will also have experience of instigating change and will have a relationship with the 'person in charge' and their team which creates an environment where staff at all levels have the opportunity to influence and direct necessary change.

3.6.4 Where changes are necessary to ensure that services are up to date with local or national developments the external manager has a role to play to ensure professional development opportunities are available to front line staff in residential care.

3.7 Reporting on progress to the managing authority or agency

3.7.1 The external manager can often be the conduit between the front line service and the broader organisation. As a champion they will positively present the work of the front line service but they also model the openness and transparency they expect from the residential service.

3.7.2 The external manager also has a role in promoting a learning culture where residential services actively review their work and make development plans. It is important that external managers are involved and present during Care Inspectorate announced inspections and are clear in their responsibilities in relation to all other regulatory activities.

3.7.3 The external manager should ensure effective reporting systems are in place within and between agencies.


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