There are likely to be opportunities aplenty as he moves to one of the largest independent providers of children's care at an increasingly testing period for the residential sector. But, he says, with "a new government, policy changes and the backdrop of the economic climate, it's a great opportunity."
Gallagher's experience on the advisory panel for Therapeutic Service Standards, and as chair of The Charterhouse Group — which represents organisations working in specialist therapeutic childcare — gives him an appreciation for the importance of working in partnership to develop and improve services for children and young people in care on a local, regional and national scale. He believes communication and co-operation between those different bodies is essential. "In terms of the government agenda, both sufficiency and efficiency are absolutely possible if there is a mature dialogue between local authorities and providers," he says. "There are ways of smarter commissioning, more effective contracting and working over geographical and discipline boundaries."
Gallagher has himself built up a wealth of ideas that he hopes to develop during his time at Continuum. "Yes it is absolutely not suitable for all young people, but residential care is an essential part of the range of placement options available," he says. "And financial pressures throw up the opportunity to re-look at how we are doing things and ask 'how can we do them better?'"
Throughout his career Gallagher has battled with this question and is excited about the potential to influence the future planning of residential care. "One of the things we have been developing and believe will be part of the future of the sector is more regional work," he says. "For some of the more specialised resources, regional commissioning could help because a single local authority doesn't have the volume of need to make the financial investment to bring those services into the area."
Gallagher believes auditing and using historical trends to discover the different types of provision that are needed in each region, could help. "Residential care comes in all shapes and sizes. If local authorities can identify what their needs are going to be over the next five or 10 years and on that basis put those services out to tender, you will get much more cost efficiency," he says.
Gallagher is equally committed to balancing the strategic side of residential care with ensuring that the provision lives up to its purpose of serving children and young people effectively. During his time at Bryn Melyn, he arranged a three-year project with Wolverhampton University to develop a system of measuring outcomes for looked-after children, which is now under way. "It is these sorts of things that help ensure we give a high quality service to the local authorities and more importantly, that we develop better practice so young people get an improved service."
The coalition government's focus on education reforms concerns Gallagher, but again, he believes it is up to providers and local authorities to take the lead. "The public sector is facing significant cuts and until the October spending review no one knows exactly what that will look like," he says. "Some local authorities are starting to be proactive and make changes in their areas, others are caught in the headlights and not sure what direction to go in."
His advice to those struggling to see beyond the obstacles is: "Just stick with it. It is a big challenge, but our sector has seen significant challenges in the past and there are always young people and families that are going to require support. There are a massive number of professionals in the state, independent and voluntary sectors who have huge amounts of practical expertise to apply to this problem."
BACKGROUND: LEADER IN RESIDENTIAL CARE
- In 1992, Kevin Gallagher began his career in social care
- By 1996 he had qualified as a social worker and began working for Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council
- After working with a range of care providers, Gallagher joined the Bryn Melyn Group as divisional director. He became chief executive in 2009
- This week, he became business development director and deputy managing director of the Continuum Group
- He also sits on the advisory panel for therapeutic service standards (children and young people) at the Royal College of Psychiatry and is chairman of The Charterhouse Group