Young people rose to the challenge – Ellis Pitt

Our service saw positive changes in the teenagers under our care despite the difficulties posed by the coronavirus pandemic, writes Ellis Pitt

Tuesday, 15th September 2020, 7:30 am
Introducing PE with Joe Wicks enabled the young people to try something new together and was a positive way to start the day (Picture: The Body Coach via Getty Images)

In residential childcare we are continually amazed by the resilience of our young people. It should therefore come as no surprise as to how well they continue to cope during the coronavirus pandemic, which has challenged many areas of our lives.

As a manager supporting vulnerable young people, there have been positive changes in the young people despite challenges of the pandemic. This leads me to question society’s expectations of our young people and their ability to feel safe in a world that can be scary.

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Throughout this difficult period our focus continued to be to support the young people in the best way possible, providing education, guidance and care. In line with the findings from the Independent Care Review and Scotland’s Promise to give vulnerable children the childhood they deserved, we, as corporate parents, remained child-centred and continued to meet their varying needs, caring for them as we would do our own children.

We recognised the mental health of our young people was key in them adjusting to the ‘new norms’ and coping with change to daily routines, including the time spent with those closest to them. Investing time in each young person has been imperative for their emotional wellbeing, enabling them to further build on their relationships with others via shared experiences.

The approach of the staff team contributed massively to how the young people responded. This was a challenging time for the team, who also had to manage their own feelings of anxiety around the pandemic, while continuing to support the young people.

Innovation and creativity are some of the important attributes of a residential childcare worker, key in supporting five teenagers with varying needs who are expected to be able to live with each other, and not family. These skills were essential and have been required more than ever during this difficult period. Some examples of this were introducing PE with Joe Wicks and yoga each morning, which enabled everyone to try something new together and was a positive way to start the day.

The young people were supportive and encouraging of each other, creating a calmness around the cottage which also improved their ability to show empathy towards each other and recognised when others were struggling. An example of the young people being able to support each other was when one young person was upset his weekly drama group was cancelled. The staff and young people decided to hold their own weekly group, with musical instruments and karaoke. This had a positive impact on the young person’s mood.

Group activities played a huge role within the cottage. Generally, the young people would be encouraged to and have their own interests. However, we observed that they ‘unconsciously’ chose to spend this time together almost as a family unit. An idea for ‘Come Dine With Me’, was a great success, with each young person choosing a theme and creating a menu with a staff member, with the winner receiving a voucher. Due to a young person’s graduation ceremony being cancelled, the celebration was held at the cottage with staff and young people participating.

With government guidelines we expected our young people to struggle with the restrictions in place. However, without the stresses and expectations of society and attending school, our young people were much more relaxed and comfortable. They interacted more positively and with support were able to regulate their emotions more appropriately.

To be able to cope with these extreme changes in their lives is evidence of the courage and resilience of these young people. It was evident that due to the relationships that the young people had with those around them they were able to recognise the important role that the staff team played in their lives, and wanted to show this by organising a fun day. The young people requested a budget and were supported by one staff member to plan their day which included a bouncy castle, games, food and a prepared DVD of “Lockdown Memories”.

As a manager of this service I feel extremely proud to be a part of this team. Through our hard work and commitment to the young people and their openness to embrace change, we were able to focus more on the positives this difficult period brought us. Hopefully this experience will provide some long-lasting learning for our young people and help them with their future journeys.

Ellis Pitt, Residential Manager, Spark of Genius, member of the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition.

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