A large board titled "You Said, We Did" greets children, visitors and staff in the main hallway at Ferndale Children's Residential Unit in East Dunbartonshire. On it are Post-it notes with ideas from children on a raft of issues from holiday trips to bedtime routines, alongside notes from the staff about how they are acting on them.
Patricia Costello, resources manager at East Dunbartonshire Council, which runs the home, says this simple system of note passing is at the heart of ensuring children are involved in the running of their home. It has also proved a far more successful way of engaging with children than organising a meeting.
She says: "A meeting with children sounds like a simple thing to organise, but it isn't. They just don't want to sit down like that. Instead, the children use the board. Sometimes the notes are cheeky, but that's part of the fun of it. Then the staff look at their notes and see how they can act on them."
A popular issue raised is holidays and day trips, which take place allyear round.
"These depend on the child. Some want to go away without other children, some with a group. The board gives a chance to put ideas up and helps us to get a better idea of what the children want to do," adds Costello.
But the home has not abandoned the idea of staging meetings, with themed mealtimes proving a useful method of gathering views in a more interesting way.
Costello explains: "The staff do menu-planning with the children and once a month pick a theme, such as Mexican or Chinese. The children help buy the food and for the meal they dress up. It also encourages conversation and staff use these meals to raise issues from the 'You Said, We Did' board."
Such focus on consultation was among a number of reasons the Care Inspectorate gave the home a rating of "very good" - its second highest grade- in the key areas of care and support, environment, staffing and leadership. Such involvement has also extended to the layout of the home, with young people recently helping with the design of its "chill out" room.
Costello says: "It has mood lighting, fibre-optics, cushions, bean bags and soft music for young people to go there to be on their own or with a member of staff."
Staff training, focused on specific needs of looked-after children, was another area praised by inspectors, especially its focus on sleep therapy.
Those working at the home have received training from the charity Sleep Scotland in response to concerns that children, many of whom arrive in care from chaotic backgrounds, were struggling to sleep and adjust to routines.
"Children in residential care typically get three to four quality hours of sleep a night, which is not much. So we decided to change that and through Sleep Scotland's training, we have learnt a range of techniques to help them get to sleep," says Costello.
"For some, we have found they like to speak to us at night when in bed but with their back to the staff member. It's about finding different strategies that help us understand sleep more and how we can help them settle. We soon find a vast improvement to children's sleeping patterns. There is also an awareness of the importance of sleep among the children," she adds.
- Location: Kirktintilloch, East Dunbartonshire
- Description: Ferndale is a residential children's home for fiveto 18-year-olds. It opened in 2006 and is owned and managed by East Dunbartonshire Council, offering 24-hour care for looked-after children. All bedrooms have en-suite showers and toilet, and there are 28 staff working at the home across three shifts each day.
- Number of Children: 9
- Service provider number: SP2003003380
Maximise opportunities to have fun and stay fit At Ferndale, all children are given full free membership at their local leisure centre, giving them access to all classes, its swimming pool and sports facilities. "Some looked-after children get just free entry or reductions, but we wanted to give our children access to everything. This is worth hundreds of pounds a year, but is something we believe is necessary particularly for the older children," says Costello.
Put children's happiness before rules Although Ferndale's maximum capacity is nine residents and the usual intake is eight, sometimes staff will look to extend this to ensure families remain together. Costello recalls one recent example where three younger siblings of a resident stayed at Ferndale after subsequently being taken into care. "Even though it was overcrowded, we wanted to keep them together as a family. Inspectors, rather than seeing it as overcrowding, liked what we had done."
Before, during and after care The home has its own outreach service that, where possible, visits children before they are housed at Ferndale. They also visit children and their families if they return to their birth family. "After being apart for a long period of time, returning home can be quite difficult for families and the children, so we felt that supporting them in that transition was important," adds Costello.