by Daniel Jones
This article looks at new considerations in running residential
children’s homes and the effects on the management, staff
and children, focusing on the importance of meeting staffs needs,
ways in which to do this and what happens when needs are not met.
The findings are that currently many homes have unnecessarily
high staff turnovers, which can be reduced with little effort,
having a dramatic effect on the quality of care within those homes.
now the needs of staff have generally not been a high enough priority
in many homes. Most homes, even if they work from a therapeutic
model, do not place much emphasis on the staff team and their
needs. Most therapy models have been focused on individual aspects
of people rather than on people.
A cognitive approach will work with the thinking processes of
* A behavioural approach will work with the behaviour of people.
* A psychodynamic approach will try to find the unconscious processes
behind problems and where in the childhood they originated (which
actually deepens the trauma and can make a person feel worse due
to the constant reliving of the trauma and other bad memories).
the last decade a new approach has arisen using all the latest
scientific advances to bring all the scientifically accurate parts
of other approaches in line with what is known about human evolution
and how the human mind works. This approach is the Human Givens
approach. The approach is revolutionising counselling and psychotherapy
and is now being applied to areas outside therapy such as education
and business management.
turnover of staff in most children’s homes is far higher
than it should be. Training staff before they started their first
shifts I found that I could teach eight new staff members and
on average out of these eight, four would be gone in three months,
another two within the first six months and another one within
the first year. So from eight new staff 75% would be gone in six
months and at best one of them would last over a year.
high level of staff turnover is all too familiar within many homes.
If you add to this the length of time it takes to actually advertise,
select, interview, employ, police check, train, then get on shift
these staff members, it becomes a costly and timely process. Many
homes seem to end up continually advertising for staff and holding
interviews at least every few months, finding fewer people applying
with each new batch of applicants.
seems to me that the cheapest and most time-efficient way to approach
this issue is to
Refine the interviews and check what questions are being asked.
* Provide the staff with appropriate training and regular chances
to talk with an independent psychotherapist who works on solving
current issues that each staff member has.
* Work at creating a culture that facilitates meeting the needs
of the staff.
happens when staff needs are not being met?
needs are not being met appropriately there can be many undesirable
effects on the staff team. The same applies when anyone’s
needs are not being met appropriately, whether they are individual
members of the public, the children within the home or staff.
needs are not met within the team, there is a higher level of
* Addictive behaviour such as more staff smoking or staff smoking
more or drug taking
* Staff drinking more when off shift, possibly some drinking excessively,
which can affect the work they do on shift, and possibly even
some drinking in work,
* Depression and depression related illnesses,
* Anger, staff having a lower tolerance level to getting angry,
* Poor concentration, tiredness which can lead to mistakes being
* Black and white thinking which leads to an “I’m
right; you’re wrong” attitude, with no compromise,
* Low motivation and an increase in a “don’t care”
* Arguments between staff on different shifts, with staff blaming
problems on other sets of staff saying things like, “They
always give in for an easy life” or “They are always
too hard on the kids”.
of these problems and more arise from staff not having their needs
met adequately. They have an impact on the company financially
and on the time of the managers and directors. They also have
an impact on the staff team as a whole and on the children and
young people who are in the home.
it worth the cost?
not meeting the needs of staff can be very costly. It can be expensive
to keep going through the process of hiring new staff, and the
effects on the children in the home can lead to an unstable atmosphere
which can then lead to lost placements which can be difficult
to fill again.
from the financial costs, there is the cost of the time of the
managers, constantly dealing with hiring and with referrals due
to trying to fill placements. Then there is the added pressure
on the manager, having to deal with unhappy and stressed staff
who are struggling to cope with being spread thinly because of
low staffing levels, having to do overtime, worrying about who
the next referral will be and whether they will be placed just
to fill beds regardless of what staff think about their suitability
within the mix of the others in the home.
and innate coping skills
basic emotional needs are a set of needs that all human beings
are born with. We all need to have them met appropriately and
healthily. If they are not met, it causes emotional distress and
can cause greed (where a need becomes a want). This can often
be seen in children who are looked after. When they have not had
their need met to give and receive attention, it can lead to attention-seeking
of the main emotional needs are :
To give and receive attention,
* Keeping a good balance of the mind/body connection, (e.g. Stress
can cause physical problems; lack of sleep lowers the immune system.)
* To have purpose and goals,
* To belong to a wider community (e.g., a group co-operating),
* To have a sense of control and independence,
* To feel a sense of security,
* To have a sense of status within a social group,
* To have a sense of competence and achievement,
* To feel understood and emotionally connected to others.
help meet these needs we all have innate coping skills, such as
the ability to relax, the ability to tolerate uncertainty, and
the ability to gain mental distance from a problem. These skills
and many others help us to get our needs met and help us to deal
with problems that we face and which may prevent those needs from
All individuals have varying degrees of ability with these coping
skills, yet all individuals can be taught how to improve them.
It is vital that staff have the opportunity to improve their coping
skills and to take time to see which needs for them are not being
met. People are all different. It is the perception that they
have of a specific situation that is important. One person could
feel a sense of control in a situation while the staff member
next to them may feel that the situation is out of their control.
main needs that are often poorly met in children’s homes
The mind/body connection,
* Giving and receiving attention,
* Sense of control,
* Feeling understood,
* Sense of purpose.
often find themselves tired and not eating properly. They find
that they have no one to talk to about problems and do not feel
that they can talk to senior staff. They feel that those making
decisions about the children entering the home do not listen to
the staff. They feel that they have no control over referrals
or staffing decisions, and often face situations as part of the
job that they feel out of control of. They often feel that ‘management’
do not understand them or know what it is like in the home. They
feel that they have no real purpose or goals, and that what they
offer is just like a bed and breakfast for the young people.
a staff friendly culture
the needs of the staff and improving their coping skills are relatively
easy; it does not take big changes. To develop coping skills,
the most important aspect is to teach staff to relax and to be
able to remain calm in difficult situations. This helps enormously
with the ability of the staff to use their other coping skills,
because when people are relaxed, they can view situations rationally
need to learn how to deal with and notice the difference between
what is and what is not within their control. This is necessary,
as worrying about things that are out of your control only causes
more stress and those things that are in your control should be
problem solved. All worry should be converted into finding a way
to directly deal with the situation.
counsellor or psychotherapist should be hired to see staff at
least every few months in individual sessions privately and confidentially,
to discuss how they are getting on and to help with their coping
skills and ensure that their needs are being met. The therapist
will also help staff deal with their work/life balance as someone
with problems at home that are causing them stress may struggle
with remaining calm at work.
management need to also work at creating a culture that helps
meet the needs of the staff. If the needs of the staff are met,
then the care they offer will be of the highest quality, which
will have an impact on the children and young people and the atmosphere
within the home.
a therapist can be a tricky task. It is so easy for companies
just to choose the cheapest therapist, assuming all therapists
are the same. Unfortunately they are not. There are over four
hundred different forms of counselling and psychotherapy, all
with different approaches. Some of these are more effective than
others, and some cause more harm than good, and the organisations
that a therapist belongs to have no bearing on their skills, abilities
appropriate therapist will :
Understand psychological conditions and their processes from all
the latest scientific findings.
* Be able to help immediately with trauma or anxiety problems.
* Give advice if asked without using jargon or psychobabble.
* Not dwell unduly on the past.
* Be supportive with difficult feelings, but will not encourage
people to remain in an emotionally aroused state.
* Will not ask staff to keep going through painful emotions.
* Be able to help with developing social skills and improving
* Help people find their own resources.
* Be able to teach deep relaxation.
* Help people to think about problems in a new, more empowering
Givens: a new approach to emotional health & clear thinking
Joe Griffin & Ivan Tyrrell, 2003, HG Publishing, www.amazon.co.uk,
Sickening Mind: brain, behaviour, immunity & disease
Paul Martin, 1997, Flamingo, www.amazon.co.uk, £8.99
the monkey: how to defuse the conflicts that can lead to violence
in the workplace
Mark Dawes & Denise Winn, 1999, Cromwell Press, www.amazon.co.uk,
in children’s homes: challenges and complexities
Dorothy Whitaker & Lesley Archer & Leslie Hicks, 1998,
John Wiley & Sons, www.amazon.co.uk
Notes on the author
Daniel Jones is a private psychotherapist. He holds workshops
including stress and anger management, communication skills, behaviour
management and restraint, and he runs workshops for young people.
Previously he worked in residential childcare and helped setting
up a therapeutic home. He works at improving the quality of residential